If the Hurricanes play on Thursday which looks increasingly likely, the team will probably still be without a few players. If Jaccob Slavin is still on the COVID protocol list, Jake Bean figures to make his 2020-21 debut.
I have weird conflicting opinions on Jake Bean. On the one hand, I have never been as high on him as some and at least from NHL-ish action in preseason have never been overly optimistic on his ceiling being more than a decent offensive #5/#6 defenseman. That is valuable but below at least higher-end hopes for a mid-first round draft pick. But on the other hand, I really want to see Bean get an audition with a run of ice time this season. The upside potential is there. He is a smart hockey player with good enough skating ability and the capability to contribute offensively. In other words, his skill set is straight from the mold of what one ideally wants from a defenseman right now. And he has mastered the AHL level which shows progress in his development. The possibility that Bean is maybe a bit of a late bloomer (or gradual developer) who is ready to put it all together is definitely there.
If Bean does get an NHL audition starting on Thursday, I will be on the edge of my seat watching the following…
1) Playing to his strengths advancing the puck
Jake Bean will not stick at the NHL level based on morphing into a flawless defensive defenseman. Yes, he needs to be competent defensively, but if he is to succeed at the NHL level, it will be because he can translate his offensive ability and play with the puck on his stick to the NHL level. Even if he succeeds at it, an overly safe and cautious version of Jake Bean has a low ceiling. Even if it comes with a few errors, Bean needs to play his game and try to make things happen by generating offense with some combination of his vision, skating and passing.
2) Handling the forecheck
One area where I think Bean struggled a bit versus NHL-ish competition in preseason games and his limited NHL ice time is handling the puck in his own end with minimal time and space. In situations, where he had enough time to start moving up the ice with time to assess things as he did, Bean looked similar to how he did excelling at the AHL level. But where he struggled was when he had the puck in defensive zone with immediate pressure and no time to start methodically navigating up the ice. In that situation, he had issues protecting the puck and advancing it in a way that maintained possession (i.e. doing more than clearing to the neutral zone).
3) Taking away time and space defensively
Another area where Bean sometimes struggled was defending with the puck in front of him 1-on-2 or 2-on-2 especially off the rush. His natural tendency leaned too much toward not being beaten. The result too often was that he left too much of a gap and with it too much time, space and skating options for opposing players. At lower levels, staying staying between the player with the puck and the net is good enough. But at the NHL level, it is possible to be in decent position but still just give skilled players too much time in which case they make plays and burn you. Bean needs to pull a page or two from the books of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce who have good judgment and a knack for knowing when and how to challenge the puck to take away time and space.
4) Producing offensively
Somewhat in the same vein as #1, the NHL version of Jake Bean must produce offensively on the score sheet to be more than a replacement level depth defenseman. He has a decent shot and a knack for finding the net at lower levels. Goal scoring from the blue line is powerful — just reference Dougie Hamilton. Similarly, being able to generate decent scoring chances for forwards via passing from the blue line would also be significant. With Dougie Hamilton and Jake Gardiner so far unimpacted by the COVID situation, Bean seems unlikely to see power play ice time, but maybe showing he can boost the offense at even strength is just as important.
5) The courage to try
Much of the points above can be summarized by saying that Jake Bean needs to play his game and leverage his strengths. For Bean that means getting going north-south with the puck on his stick and making plays to advance the puck and generate offense. It is fair to give him a bit of time to settle in, but the longer he looks like someone focused on being a defensively sound #6 defenseman, the less I like it.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are you watch points for Jake Bean if he does get into the lineup on Thursday?
2) What is your projection for his ultimate ceiling as an NHLer?