With Brett Pesce and more recently Haydn Fleury out of the lineup due to injuries, the Hurricanes needed to reach to Charlotte to ice six defensemen. Veteran AHLer Trevor Carrick earned the first call up and played in Saturday’s game, but during the layoff between games, the team swapped in Jake Bean. Bean figures to make his NHL debut in Montreal on Tuesday.
The length of Bean’s audition figures to be short and also driven more by the return of Pesce or Fleury than how well he plays. So I think his real audition is likely not until the 2019-20 season. But any time a player steps into an NHL lineup, he has a chance to play so well that he just says. As such, the timing is still good for an article discussing the appropriate development path for Jake Bean.
His 2018-19 season thus far
Only 21 games into his professional career, Bean is off to a good start with the Charlotte Checkers. He has accumulated three goals and eight assists in those 21 games and is +6 which ranks second only to Roland McKeown on the Checkers. More significantly than the few basic numbers, Bean has been earning ice time and trust at the AHL level. Especially for an offensive defenseman, his start in the AHL is encouraging. He has transitioned well and quickly earned more ice time and responsibility.
But is he NHL-ready?
To be honest, the answer is probably not. Bean had a strong front half of training camp and also preseason, but he also had issues at times defensively toward the end of preseason which suggests he still has some work to do in preparing for the NHL. But oftentimes players do not so much work their way up to the NHL level but instead seize the opportunity when it presents itself. Bean is a player whose strengths as a skating and playmaking defenseman fit well in today’s NHL. In addition, for a team that needs more scoring, that skill set could be a boost right now. The questions are twofold. First, can he bring his offensive ability to the NHL level and produce offensively, or will there be an adjustment phase? Second, can he be at least adequate defensively?
The importance of playing to his strengths even if there are growing pains
A player like Jake Bean is not going to make it to the NHL by suddenly morphing into a high-end shutdown defenseman. Rather, Bean will be successful if he can carry over his current strengths offensively to the NHL level. I think that point is utterly critical in terms of how Bean develops at the NHL level.
Referencing Ryan Murphy
On that note, I think Ryan Murphy’s development path is interesting. Many hate it when Jake Bean is compared to failed first-rounder Ryan Murphy. I do not mean to say that the two players are exactly the same, nor do I mean to suggest that Bean will not make it in the NHL. But I think Murphy is a good reference point for the development of a young offensive defenseman. V1.0 of Ryan Murphy was a sight to behold even if somewhat misguided at times. Murphy had a natural ability and the wheels to pick a skating lane and fly through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone by himself. The issue early on was that he lacked the ability to use the same speed to set up passing lanes such that he could play the puck forward and join the rush from behind. And he too regularly skated himself into dead ends without help from the forwards that he passed on the way into the corner of the offensive zone. Rather than trying to adjust from his strength carrying the puck, he instead seemed to try to cut down on mistakes by significantly reducing his amount of free wheeling. But in trying to tidy up his game, Murphy gave up the one thing that he was great at. V2.0 of Ryan Murphy was Murphy playing with 18-year old Noah Hanifin and both players mostly just trying to get on and off the ice without a mistake. In playing this way, Murphy gave up the one thing that at least had the potential to make him a regular NHL player. I am not sure it would have mattered, but the right path for development for Murphy would have been to continue playing as a puck carrier and trying to make adjustments to better use his speed to generate offense off the rush even if it meant some errors and growing pains as he tried to evolve from just being able to skate past everyone at lower levels.
The path forward for Jake Bean
First, as I said above, he needs to play to his strengths. Certainly, he might need to be a bit more conservative at first at the NHL level, but if Jake Bean is not trying to leverage his strengths as a skating playmaker, he is not yet working on his transition to the NHL.
Second, Bean does need to show that he can be at least adequate defensively. The biggest challenge here for Bean is to resist the temptation to just keep backing up when challenged with speed and/or size. In preseason action and even against lesser prospect-level competition, he has a tendency to leave too much of a gap in making sure he is not beaten. In today’s NHL, giving on-rushing forwards time and space is a recipe for problems. So though it is not within his natural tendencies, he needs to play up into gaps and challenge the puck when appropriate.
Finally, it might not happen on Tuesday after very limited practice, but when Bean returns to Raleigh for a longer audition, it should include power play ice time. I said awhile back that I thought Bean was capable of playing on a second power play unit even as a 19 or 20-year old. The sooner the team can get him some power play ice time the better.
The challenge for Rod Brind’Amour
The challenge for Brind’Amour in playing a role in Bean’s development is striking the right balance between seeking improvement but also living with some mistakes. Brind’Amour should play a role in where Bean lands on the spectrum between ‘trying not to make mistakes’ and ‘playing his game as an attacking defenseman.’
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are the chances that Jake Bean just rises up and seizes the opportunity being given to him?
2) Based on his play in preseason and also his start in Charlotte (if you have seen it), what are the chances that Bean is NHL-ready?
3) Do you have any other thoughts or comments on Jake Bean?