At this point in the season, we start to see who is legit and who isn’t.

And it’s not just for teams but for the players who play on them.

A quick note, all stats are in advance of Saturday’s game against the Penguins.

Undoubtedly the biggest surprise this season has been Ethan Bear. He’s quickly become one of, if not the best Oilers rearguards this season playing a simple game that moves the puck up the ice.

Small, quick and most importantly smart plays have been a welcome facet to this team that’s struggled to find strong puck-movers.

His numbers, too, have been impressive. This season, Bear has played just over 21 minutes and by every count has been a strong driver of play.

His 50.75 CF% paces Oilers defenceman who’ve played over 100 minutes at even strength, as is his shot rate of 53.01%. His goal rates have been far from great getting outscored 11-15 at even-strength.

Interestingly enough, his expected goal rate at even-strength is 52.24%. Couple that with a very low 95.8 PDO and it leads me to believe that the best is yet to come when it comes to his ability to drive play.

The sample size has been very small, but this year he’s been paired up with Darnell Nurse in what has become the Oilers defacto top-pairing.

Looking at their splits together in thanks to, the two have gotten caved in against top competition possession-wise (44 CF%) but only been outscored 2-3 on the ice. Against the middle-six competition, they’ve driven play to the tune of 59 CF% (!), but been outscored 0-6.

Again, small sample sizes, so let’s see how this pans out.

A few more things

There are some other interesting things that have jumped out to me about the Oilers back end early on this season.

  • Joel Persson has been an incredible surprise to me. He’s seemed to adjust to the North American game very well and hasn’t looked out of place. Among all defenceman at even-strength, he’s posting a team-high 52.2 CF% (93 minutes TOI).
  • Another defenceman who hasn’t looked out of place has been Brandon Manning, who I thought has done a respectable job filling in for injuries. He’s been a wash in terms of his possession rates (50.8 CF% at even strength).
  • Oscar Klefbom continues to pace the teams defencemen in points scoring nine in the Oilers’ first 14 games. That had him tied for sixth amongst all defenceman heading into Saturday’s games.
  • The Oilers are going to have to get creative when Adam Larsson returns. He broke his leg in the first week of October and was given a six-to-eight week time frame. We’re about halfway through that now. Given the emergence of Bear looking like a legit top-four defenceman, it might be time for Edmonton to make a trade for some scoring help. Larsson, or Matt Benning, could be candidates to bring back a middle-six scoring forward.
  • This article was written without taking into account any numbers from the Saturday game, as I mentioned above. I was scheduled to work an afternoon shift which started right after the Oilers game, but still wanted to make sure I had some content up today.

On Twitter: @zjlaing