EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers defenseman prospect Ethan Bear played through the pain for Seattle in the Western Hockey League playoffs last season, and has the scar to prove it.
Bear, 20, broke the index finger on his left hand blocking a shot in Game 3 of the WHL Western Conference Final against Kelowna. He missed the final three games of the series, but returned to play against Regina in the final, helping Seattle win its first league championship.
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"I was lucky enough to get a quick surgery, and then I recovered enough to play in the finals and then the Memorial Cup," Bear said. "I had to adjust the knob on my stick and the way I placed my hand. But Seattle, they really made it work for me and I was able to play at my best abilities. They put a plate in it and couple of screws. The doctors did a really good job. They made it strong enough so that I could play and I wouldn't feel as much pain."
The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Ochapowace, Saskatchewan, native selected in the fifth round (No. 124) of the 2015 NHL Draft, is one of the Oilers' top defenseman prospects. He was the third-highest scoring defenseman in the WHL last season, but his improvements were most notable in his own end of the ice.
"I really wanted to work on my defensive game and I think I did that from 1-on-1s and the way I positioned myself against rushes, and I had a better stick and I think I really improved," Bear said. "I think last year was a good learning aspect from the defensive side, and offensively, I did some good things as well.
I think I just evolved my overall game."
Bear has excelled in the offensive zone, with 135 points (47 goals, 88 assists) through 136 games in his past two WHL seasons, and Edmonton is happy he has raised his level in his own zone as well.
"What we were looking for were some defensive improvements, gaps and corner work and around the front of the net," Oilers senior director of player development Rick Carriere said. "There is no question we had confidence in him and what he could do with the puck on the power play and his shot, but he really improved his gaps, he improved his defensive game, his 1-on-1s, his play down low, his tracking, and all those things were all big improvements in his game."
Bear, a right-shot, was Seattle's top scoring defenseman last season with 70 points (28 goals, 42 assists) in 67 games. He had 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 17 WHL playoff games.
"It was a really good season," he said. "I was confident in myself the whole way through the season and through the playoffs. I did really well for myself, I'm pretty proud of what I accomplished, but even with the team, coming toward the end of the season and into playoffs, we really came together and that was really good for us."
Bear still is recovering from his injury, but is expected to be ready for Oilers training camp in the fall.
"I'm very confident in my abilities and the player I've become," he said. "I'm maturing and even off the ice I've been taking care of myself and all that preparation and what it takes to be a pro. I think I've learned all that through the years."