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?
For me, points 2 and 3 are the biggies. He’ll be playing with Fleury to start with, so he has a familiar partner in a way. Haydn can cover that stay at home D man thing, giving Jake a little more offensive creativity. That said, having good gaps is going to be key and handling the forecheck pressure. Tampa is going to be a good test for him.
Not so worried on the offensive side as I don’t think he’ll get any PP time and I’d say at most this is 3 games. I think Slavin can come back, if healthy, on Sunday. Any points Jake generates in this period is just bonus. Now, if he does get PP time, that’s where I want to see how creative he can be moving the puck effectively and establishing himself as a shooting threat.
To me none of 1-4 happen if #5 doesn’t happen. He needs to be confident. He needs to know where the puck needs to go before he gets it. If he makes quick confident passes and gets the Canes out of their zone that is a big plus. Making good decisions when to jump in the play or pinch is another area where Bean needs to shine. He has that offensive flair, but it only works when you make the right decision. I do bet he gets some PP time if he is having a good game. Slavin has been running PP #2, so it’s a spot available.
1. Everyone of the issues you describe I would call rookie mistakes, and everyone makes them. I recall the now god-like Slavin and Pesce duo in their last exhibition game a number of seasons ago before they were sent down to CLT converging in the circle to deny Ovechkin time and space, and Ovi showed them how it was done in the NHL but carrying the puck right between them to the goal and scoring.
It is what I said yesterday. Bean has to know he can make mistakes and that assurance has to come from RBA letting him make mistakes while urging him to play his game. Remember how tentative Fleury used to be – Bean is probably the better of the two offensively.
Primary watchpoint – will RBA let Bean make mistakes?
2. I think he is a 4D or 5D who has the ability to run the PP very effectively. Will he get the chance at the PP point here with Hamilton healthy and Gardiner playing better? I doubt it.