EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers are in the market for offensive, right-shot defensemen, and may have a good one developing in Ethan Bear.
Selected in the fifth round (No. 124) of the 2015 NHL Draft, Bear, 19, had an outstanding season with Seattle of the Western Hockey League and signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Edmonton on the eve of the Oilers' development camp in Jasper, Alberta.
"It feels amazing," Bear said after signing with the Oilers. "I worked very hard during the season and in the offseason, and it feels really rewarding to sign with Edmonton. It is a real big honor."
A product of Ochapowace, Saskatchewan, Bear had 65 points (19 goals, 46 assists) in 69 games with the Thunderbirds last season. He had eight goals and 14 assists in 18 playoff games to help Seattle reach the WHL final, where it lost to Brandon.
Video: ASK AN OILER | Ethan Bear
"It was a good year," Bear said. "Our team really came together early in the season and it showed all throughout the season and into the playoffs, and we really stuck together. Myself, I just tried to keep consistent and work hard every day. I had areas to improve on, which I believe I did, and that was huge for me."
Bear has been steadily improving through his first three years in the WHL. He had six goals and 13 assists in his first season with Seattle before doubling his output the following year and nearly doing it again last season.
"Ethan's offensive game really evolved, but more than anything else, I think he rounded out his game away from the puck, too," Oilers senior director of player development Rick Carriere said. "He's a lot better in the defensive zone, checking down low. He had good corner battles, he was tougher in front of the net. His game is all about the puck and transition and moving his feet, and he did a really good job with that throughout the year and was able to put up some offensive numbers."
The Oilers hope Bear's upward trend continues this season, when he returns to the Thunderbirds.
"My defending, transition, tight turns, lateral movement, especially defending in my own zone, boxing out players in front, and especially getting my shots through, that's what I worked on this year," Bear said. "I think those things really paid off for me."
Going into his second development camp with Edmonton, Bear was looking to continue making a good impression on the Oilers coaching staff. He'll attend the training camp in September, when his goal will be to get into a preseason game.
"I'm going to learn from the experience last year," Bear said. "I know what I'm coming up against and know how much work you have to put into it, and how much you have to pay attention to detail. I know what I'm expected to do, and it's going to be another fun camp."
Video: HIGHLIGHTS | Bear's Three-Point Night
Bear knows there is still a long road ahead of him to play for the Oilers. While still in search of an established veteran puck-moving defenseman, Edmonton is loaded with talented young players on its blue line. Yet, Bear is motivated to continue working on his game.
"I'm really passionate about the sport and I really love hockey and I use every chance I get to get better every day," he said. "I really tried to use my time to improve and not take anything for granted."
Heading back to Seattle, Bear believes the Thunderbirds will be a force in the WHL this season, and is hoping to be among the most productive defensemen in the league.
"We had some good talent last year and I hope a lot of the guys do come back, and if they don't, then good for them," he said. "But I know we're going to have another strong team and I'm looking forward to another good season."