When Ron Francis and company left the draft table and began their walk to the podium at KeyBank Arena to announce the 13th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, speculation started running wild as to which 18-year-old would become the newest member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
After drafting defensemen in the top-ten in consecutive years (Haydn Fleury - seventh overall in 2014, Noah Hanifin - fifth overall in 2015), it seemed like a lock that the Canes would go in the direction of a forward. Among the players available were University of Wisconsin goal-scorer Luke Kunin, strong offensive winger Kieffer Bellows, reliable two-way center Brett Howden, and dynamic Russian pivot German Robtsov, among others.
Then, the Hurricanes drafted another left-handed defenseman in Jake Bean.
It was a decision that surprised and angered a great number of people who were hoping to see the Canes add a forward to the mix, which they eventually did with the selection of QMJHL power winger Julien Gauthier eight picks later.
Two and a half year later, we’re about to get our first indication of if Francis made the right decision. Will Bean be able to rise to the top of the Canes’ extraordinarily deep organizational defensive depth chart?
We are still a ways off from learning the answer to that question, but we get to see a sneak peak of what he might eventually be when he makes his expected NHL debut on Tuesday night in Montreal.
“A talented, fluid skater with an effortless stride that handles the puck well,” reads International Scouting Services’ report on Bean from 2016. “Uses his excellent mobility effectively on both offence and defence. Very good walking in from the point, has the ability to make guys miss and get himself into high quality scoring areas. Seems to make something happen every time he has the puck. Big shot and tremendous vision.”
ISS pegged Bean as the 16th-best skater in the draft and the second-best defenseman behind Mikhail Sergachev, who was selected with the ninth-overall pick by the Montreal Canadiens before being dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Jonathan Drouin and finishing second among rookie defensemen in points as a 19-year-old in 2017-18.
The development for Bean hasn’t been anywhere near similar to that of Sergachev or even Charlie McAvoy, Boston’s budding star blueliner who was taken one pick after Bean in 2016 (which, to this point, looks like a mistake on Carolina’s part).
Instead of breaking into the league at age 19, Bean finished out his four-year WHL career with the Calgary Hitmen and, for the final couple of months, the Tri-City Americans. When it was all said and done, Bean logged 196 points in 219 WHL games.
Now, in his first season as a professional hockey player, Bean is picking up steam. He had 11 points in his first 21 games for a dominant Charlotte Checkers team and, at the time of his call-up on Sunday, was on a four-game point streak and had ten points in his last 14 AHL games.
While it’s easy to lump the 20-year-old in as “just another defenseman from the Francis era”, I’d advise against that. Yes, he is another defenseman, but his skill set is unlike any defenseman on the Hurricanes right now.
Carolina’s power play has had a lengthy stay in the bottom-third of the NHL. Since 2013, the Canes have had a top-20 power play just once (2014-15). A common theme of those countless unwatchable power plays has been the absence of a real power play quarterback. A player with the vision, hands, and playmaking ability to distribute the puck quickly and confidently.
Enter, Jake Bean.
Meanwhile, in Charlotte, Jake Bean delivers an awesome cross-seam pass to Aleksi Saarela, who fires home the 6-on-5 goal to tie the game late in the third period. pic.twitter.com/AWJfm2B1Vu— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 22, 2018
What Bean does better than almost all of his new teammates is deliver strong tape-to-tape passes. If he is given an opportunity to set up shop at the top of the offensive zone, he’s going to do so and make you regret it.
One of the biggest things that stand out in Bean’s game is his deception - his ability to make defenders think he’s doing one thing and then do something different. He uses his eyes and hands to his advantage in the form of head fakes and small movements to clear passing and shooting lanes.
A little bit of Bean's patience with the puck on display here. He's in no rush to make a play. He's really deceptive - head fakes, using his hands and eyes to draw defenders out of passing lanes, etc. pic.twitter.com/bjNuQg4eJ2— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 26, 2018
He’s just an exceptionally smart player who is able to think just a tick or two quicker than most of his opponents. Those split-second decisions make a huge difference and, combined with his high skill level, makes him a threat with the puck on his stick from all over the ice. Away from the puck, he finds soft spots in the defense and gives his teammates additional options with the puck.
To boot, he can shoot the puck. He reached a WHL defenseman-high 24 goals in his draft year and, while his goal totals tailed off in the latter half his junior career, those 24 goals weren’t just an anomaly or a mirage. He can score goals.
Boy, let me tell you, watching Jake Bean on the power play is a very fun activity. pic.twitter.com/rsuxSpM4GB— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) November 26, 2018
He has a quick release and a surprisingly strong shot. Of course, like his passes, his shots are pin-point accurate. From the point, he is able to navigate shots through traffic in front and get pucks on net, which is something that the Hurricanes have struggled with.
All of those traits make him a candidate to be a true power play quarterback in the NHL. He profiles better for that role than any defenseman currently on the Hurricanes. Faulk can’t pass as well as him and he doesn’t have the patience with the puck that Bean has. Dougie Hamilton has a far-superior shot (as is the case when he’s compared to almost every defenseman in the world) but, again, he doesn’t have many of the traits that Bean has. It will be interesting to see how much the coaching staff uses the rookie early on (i.e. will he be put on a power play unit).
There are still some things with him that have me questioning his upside as an NHL defenseman, though.
For starters, he needs to put on some serious bulk over the next few years. He is listed at 6’1”, 172 pounds and, truth be told, that 172 number might be generous. He is extremely slight in his build at this point. For that reason, I was relatively surprised to see him get the call to the NHL this soon. I can very easily imagine him being bodied off of pucks at the NHL level, especially given that it has been a common occurrence for him in Charlotte.
The size issue isn’t overly concerning at this point because he does have a 6’1” frame to grow into and, again, he is just 20-years-old. He is still remarkably young and was among the youngest draft-eligible players back in 2016.
He’s also not a particularly quick skater. While he is mobile in that he can move side-to-side well and has the ability to weave in and out of areas and around players (which is apparent with his smooth zone entries), his straight-line speed is nothing to write home about.
Defensively, things can still be an adventure at times. His smarts really do help him in his own end, so he tends to be positionally sound and is certainly more than capable of executing clean zone exits, but his size hurts him in net-front battles and in the corners.
A name that comes up a lot when you talk about a “future Hurricanes power play QB” is Ryan Murphy, who was pegged to be that guy before turning into a borderline bust.
I really don’t like the comparison between Bean and Murphy. Yes, they are/were both high-end offensive talents on the blue line, but Bean’s bigger frame (6’1” opposed to 5’11”), smarts, and poise all suggest to me that he is a safer NHL bet than Murphy. Murphy had a few good qualities, but he reached a point where he, in my estimation, was relying on his good qualities to try to make up for his many bad qualities. While it’s still very early, Bean appears to be a better all-around player than Murphy was at age 20 or 21.
What he needs to prove is that he can survive at 5-on-5 in the NHL. For me, that’s really what it comes down to for Bean as he enters his early and mid-20’s. He has the entire skill set that you’d look for in a puck mover on a top power play unit, but will he be able to do the things he has to do in order to be a top-4 NHL defenseman? Can he avoid getting pinned in his own end? Will he be able to withstand the physical toll that comes with playing an 82-game season in the best hockey league in the world against the fastest, strongest, and best hockey players in the world?
All of those questions come into play when you’re trying to project what his ceiling is going to be.
Obviously, I don’t have the answers. The only person who can answer those questions is Jake Bean, and he will spend the next few seasons trying to prove that he can hang in the NHL.