The Carolina Hurricanes have split their first two games of a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a slate of games that should continue to be very entertaining to watch.
There’s been plenty going on for the Canes, but perhaps the biggest news from the past few games has been the play of a rookie defenseman who seems to have no intentions of letting go of his spot in the lineup.
We will talk about that and a few other things in this week’s Quick Whistles.
Jake Bean’s Impact
One of the more iconic product slogans is Pringles’ “Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop.” That slogan also rings true for Jake Bean.
(Yes, those are two sentences that I really just wrote.)
It took a while for the Hurricanes to finally give Bean the chance he had earned. They were very patient in letting him develop at his own pace for two years, but now it looks like his days in the AHL are behind him as he has been a noticeable difference-maker for Carolina over the last five games.
Since re-entering the lineup on February 15 against Columbus, the 22-year-old defenseman has tallied five points and has failed to record a point in just one game. Over his last four games, he has seen his ice time increase game by game. Last week against Florida, he logged 12:13 of ice time and has since seen that number rise to a career-high 15:00 against Tampa Bay on Monday.
He has been an absolute machine for creating offense since getting into the lineup, logging the highest expected goals-for per 60 at 5-on-5 out of all NHL skaters with at least 95 minutes of ice time.
There is no denying the explosive offensive game that he plays, and you can clearly see that the way he plays is different from everyone else on Carolina’s blue line.
While Dougie Hamilton and Jake Gardiner both have great offensive instincts and an innate ability to create scoring chances, neither of them maneuvers the offensive zone quite like Bean. The rookie traverses the blue line remarkably well, using deception and head-fakes to his advantage to throw off defenders and gain space. He does a great job with his footwork at the line to cross over and truly quarterback an offensive possession.
Jake Bean with a deceptive move at the point that almost led to a scoring chance. pic.twitter.com/j7GxwfPZ7x— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) February 17, 2021
He is extremely fun to watch because of his creativity and overflowing confidence, and that’s part of the reason why the Hurricanes coaching staff seemingly can’t get enough of him. He just keeps seeing more ice time and more high-leverage shifts because he has “difference marker” written all over him.
Bean has quickly proven that he belongs in the NHL and that his days in the minors should be in the rearview mirror.
Vincent Trocheck also couldn't believe that Jake Bean made that pass. 2-0 Hurricanes. pic.twitter.com/k5FNeHMAfO— Canes Country (@CanesCountry) February 20, 2021
There are still some things that need to be cleaned up with his defensive game, but to this point, his offensive plays have heavily outweighed his defensive mistakes.
So, as they say with the Pringles, “Once You Play Bean, You Can’t Stop Playing Bean,” or something.
Jesper Fast’s Breakout Game
Jesper didn’t get off to a Fast start in Carolina.
He struggled a bit at finding his game in a new system, then he got sidelined with COVID, then he essentially had to hit the reset button, but over the last few games, he has looked noticeably better. That all led us to his effort on Monday, wherein he scored two goals and had his real breakout performance as a member of the Hurricanes.
A lot of his success as of late can be attributed to his role on the power play. He has served as a net-front disturbance, and he has been great in the role. It directly led to his first goal as a Hurricane.
JESPER FAST'S FIRST HURRICANES GOAL— Canes Country (@CanesCountry) February 23, 2021
Martin Necas threw the puck on net, and Fast was there to clean up the rebound and give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead over the Lightning. pic.twitter.com/IHypOPTGlp
His second goal was very similar. He won the race to a rebound from Brett Pesce’s wrist shot and did a great job of getting under the puck and roofing it over the pad of Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Well, that was Fast.— Canes Country (@CanesCountry) February 23, 2021
Jesper Fast shovels home the rebound for his 2nd goal of the night and his 2nd as a Hurricane to tie the game at 2-2 in the second period. pic.twitter.com/VuaQDE4H0s
It feels like the dust is starting to settle on some of the hot starts from certain players, and now the lines are beginning to set up in the way that we expected entering the season, which would include Jordan Staal playing with Fast on the third line. It makes all the sense in the world for those two players to be playing together on a shutdown line. I’d expect that to become a theme moving forward, and I think that will really help Fast build on the momentum that he has been mounting as of late.
To no real fault of his own, he got off to a turbulent start in Carolina, but now it appears as if the Hurricanes’ lone free agent signing is now coming along Fast and furious.
Getting Mrazek Back
The Hurricanes have gotten some very promising news on the injury front lately with Petr Mrazek returning to the ice. He even participated in practice today before the team’s trip to Tampa Bay.
The goaltending woes have been felt over the last couple of weeks, with James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic struggling at times. Both guys had a mix of good showings and some pretty disastrous ones. Nedlejkovic did, however, have his first NHL shutout against the Lightning over the weekend, which was very impressive and served as a big milestone for him in his quest to become a full-time NHL goalie.
Mrazek is different, though. He has been the defacto starter for this team for three years now, and the results have been largely positive. It was a real shame that his red-hot start to the season got derailed by a collision with teammate Max McCormick.
At the time of his injury, Mrazek led the league in goals saved above expectation and was flat-out excellent as he logged two shutouts in three starts.
That was a very, very small sample size, but he looked very comfortable in the net. He was quiet, composed, and lacked the shakiness that we have seen from him in spurts over the last few years.
The expectation shouldn’t be to see more of that upon his return, but the Canes do need some stability in the net, and it appears as if the only place they’re going to get it from is from Mrazek.
He is practicing, which should hopefully be a good sign for him returning either late in the upcoming road trip or at some point in their homestand in the first couple weeks of March.