EDMONTON, AB - Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett glided slowly towards the area of Ethan Bear during the first strides of Wednesday morning's practice session to mutter four simple words to the defenceman.
That conversation, albeit short, cut straight to the point and served as more than just a quick catch-up between the bench boss and the blueliner.
"I skated up to him this morning and I said 'Knock, knock. Opportunity awaits,'" Tippett said from the Oilers Hall of Fame Room on Wednesday. "It's up to him. He'll get in there, he'll play the next two games, so hopefully he plays well."
The product of Ochapowace, Saskatchewan got an 18-game taste of life in the big leagues two seasons ago, recording his first NHL goal and three assists, before injuries and a logjam at defence with the Oilers last campaign limited Bear to action in the AHL and the Bakersfield Condors.
"I think the injuries were probably the part that was the hardest on me," Bear said. "Seeing the guys get called up, it wasn't really that bad because they're my friends and deep down I'm genuinely happy for them because it's our dream to get here, but for myself it was taking my body more serious making sure I was getting treatment and making sure I was working hard each day to get stronger."
Video: RAW | Ethan Bear 09.25.19
The 22-year-old, despite being a former WHL Defenceman of the Year with the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2017 and one of the younger-yet-experienced players in the Oilers organization, felt like the dark horse at Main Camp for cracking the Oilers opening-night roster behind the likes of Joel Persson, William Lagesson and Evan Bouchard.
Bear put the lessons he learned from the Condors coaching staff and influences like Bakersfield assistant coach Dave Manson into place on the ice in the AHL, registering six goals and 25 assists in 52 games, but the biggest growth points came from the lessons he learned off it.
"It's being ready every day," Bear said. "Making sure you're taking care of your body and making sure you're ready mentally every day. I'm taking it very seriously, whether it's pre-game skate or practice. I'm trying to get into the lineup every time, and when I'm in there I'm making sure I'm giving myself the best chance to help the team win."
But Tippett has observed the potential in the right-shot defender's talent and coachability since the onset of Camp, and the defenceman is one that'll be evaluated much more closely in the Oilers final two pre-season games with the news of Persson being forced to miss up to two weeks with a shoulder injury sustained on Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.
Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 09.25.19
"I think his game is good. He's one of the guys that's surprised me coming into Camp," Tippett said. "He's in great shape. The little details of the game he's really trying to dig into and be strong at. He skates well, he moves the puck well, so it's a good opportunity. He's played well in the games he's played except for the one game where there wasn't much going on with the group, but the other games he's played well. He'll get an opportunity tomorrow night."
Despite catching the eye of the coaching staff and outlasting some of his defensive counterparts with a week until puck drop on the '19-20 NHL regular season, Bear's making no guarantees about his position with the singular goal of furthering his growth both on and off the ice.
"I'm obviously happy to still be here, but at the same time I'm not satisfied and I'm not getting comfortable," he said. "I still got a ways to go, but I'm trying to take care of myself and improve every day the best I can."