A crowded young blue line prevented Jake Bean from cracking his first National Hockey League roster. Despite not making the lineup, Bean’s stock only continues to rise.
On Oct. 3, the Hurricanes reassigned the 13th overall pick from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Calgary Hitmen. He appeared with the team for a skate Oct. 5 and suited up with the club when they hosted the Everett Silvertips Oct. 6 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
But Bean impressed down in Raleigh and hung around until the end of the pre-season schedule.
Bean had been absent from the WHL club almost immediately once the Hitmen’s training camp opened in August, spending most of his time trying to make his first NHL roster.
“It was a positive experience, I learned a lot,” said Bean. “I got down there pretty early and practiced with some of the guys before we went to Traverse City for the rookie tourney. It was really beneficial going into the exhibition games against NHL guys; it was like you’ve started your season already.”
He, along with the other young hopefuls competed in the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup tournament in Traverse City, Mich., in September. Joining the Hurricanes were the young cores of the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues.
“It was good to be a part of that,” stated Bean.
The Canes went 2-1 through the round robin and blanked the Wild 5-0 Sept. 12 to finish third.
From there, he stayed with the big club as they returned to North Carolina for main camp.
It was Bean’s second tour with the Hurricanes and was noticeably different mentally, according to their hockey staff.
“Last year, he came down here and was in awe of being at his first pro camp. This year, he was more on a survival mission and tried to make our team,” said Hurricanes assistant coach and three-time Stanley Cup champion Steve Smith.
One year of growth and experience certainly helped Bean. After returning from his first camp with the Hurricanes, he logged another 43 regular season games and four playoff games with the Hitmen and participated in one of the most dramatic IIHF World Junior Championship finals, when the Americans edged the Canadians 5-4 in a shootout.
“He was much more mature this year. You could tell that he was more of a sponge this year: he was thirsty for information, he processed information quickly and caught onto the systems were trying to install much quicker,” said Smith, a former NHL defencemen for 16 years.
Bean went through it all: off-ice training, strength testing, practice sessions and even pre-season games.
A year ago, the Hurricanes only ran the Calgarian out there for a pair of exhibition games. This year, the 6-foot-1, 172-pounder appeared in four of them, registering one assist, two penalty minutes and a plus-1 rating.
The Hurricanes were impressed with Bean’s skating ability. Smith wasn’t big on player comparisons, but mentioned that Bean was a dynamic with the puck, a pass-first d-man and used his stick skills to take the puck away from the other team rather than physicality.
The Canes tried to lineup his shifts with offensive opportunities, fitting into Bean’s skill set more than the defensive zone, even though they believe he can turn into a two-way defenceman down the line.
In his four games, the Hurricanes went 2-2, with wins over the Buffalo Sabres (3-2) and his lone assist came in 6-2 decision over the Edmonton Oilers.
“From a birds eye view, or from watching him from the bench, he looked like he has the ability to make the game easier for his partner, and that’s a special skill. He skates really well — it looks like he’s floating out there sometimes,” said three-time NHL All-Star defenceman Justin Faulk — not the former Hitmen blue liner and current Buffalo Sabre Justin Falk.
It was in the Hurricanes final pre-season game, when the Oilers built up a 4-0 lead, that Smith wanted to see how Bean handled himself against the reigning Art Ross, Ted Lindsay and Hart Memorial Trophy winner.
“For the most part — for lack of a better term — we try to stick the younger guys out against the bottom of other the other team’s lineups,” said Smith. “The game was sort of out of hand, so I put him on late against (Connor) McDavid.”
McDavid ended up trying to drive Bean into the boards, according to Smith. A few shifts earlier, Bean shutdown McDavid on a scoring chance and even went around him exiting the zone.
“I got the chance to play against the Oilers in back-to-back nights and got be on the ice occasionally with Connor. It was cool to be out there with him,” said Bean. “He definitely has a gear that not a lot of guys have. I’m still learning the NHL game and adjusting to the speed, but it was definitely a positive experience to get out there against him.”
“The strength level is a little different here. You aren’t going up against 16- and 17-year-olds each night, you’re going up against the strongest players in the world,” said Hurricanes co-captain Faulk. “He’s not going to get to that point strength-wise, but his skating and the ways he positions himself will allow him to handle those stronger guys.”
Helping Bean become acclimated in camp there was Faulk, who remembered what it was like to be the young guy at camp.
“Especially with young guys, you try and help him out wherever you can. We were working on the power play when I pointed out the he needed to be more deceptive. Guys at this level will close up a little faster and guys are a little smarter. He needed to add more deception; it’s little things like that that will help him go far,” said Faulk, who has 74 career power play points.
Bean took note, watching his peers go to work each time they stepped on the ice.
“(Their) pace of play and confidence with the puck stood out. Those guys are really talented and they see the ice really well. To play alongside them was pretty cool,” said Bean.
Those same guys tossing out pointers are currently occupying his spot with the club. The Hurricanes defensive core doesn’t feature anyone over the age of 26 and includes former fifth-overall pick Noah Hanifin, along with proven players like Jaccob Slavin and Trevor van Riemsdyk.
With no room on the roster and two more seasons of eligibility remaining with the Hitmen, the Hurricanes sent Bean back to his hometown.
Bean was listed as a question mark heading into his first game against the Silvertips, but was on the first line with 17-year-old rookie Layne Toder for puck drop.
“It’s a big plus to have him back in our lineup, bringing that experience from NHL camps,” said defenceman Drea Espositio, who is entering his second season with Bean. “Everyday I watch him. There are things he does in games and practice that you pay attention to because he’s been to a high level. There is a lot to take away from him on and off the ice.”
On the ice, Bean fit in like a dirty shirt.
The skating ability that Smith and Faulk raved about was evident, as there were several occasions where Bean positioned his body against the Silvertips to wipe out an offensive threat or circle back, retreating to his own zone while a better breakout system could formulate.
“It’s a big emphasis having Jake back there. He has great poise with the puck. He makes smart plays and the minutes he logged to night were noticeable. He’s an elite player that we’re going to need to move pucks and be a leader for us,” said Hitmen Head Coach Dallas Ferguson.
In three games with the Hitmen this season, Bean is working his way back into the swing of things with three assists.
Back in Calgary, Bean is here for the year, aside from another World Junior experience. Baring an injury emergency, Bean will not return to the Hurricanes this season. This might be the last season Calgarians get a to watch Bean work at the major junior level.
There’s a reason the Hurricanes kept Bean around the players that make up their 23-man roster for so long. It’s because they envision him setting up shop at PNC Arena one day.
“I wasn’t involved in his exit meeting, but I had a chance to catch up with him before he met with our GM (Ron Francis),” said Smith. “We talked about his improvements from one camp to the next and how excited we are for the direction he is going. We talked about how the players he will be playing against now in junior will be the same players he will be playing against in pro hockey. We let him know that we believe in him and that he will play for us sooner rather than later.”
“He was the last d-man sent back. That just shows what they thought of him here and that he earned the right to be here,” said Faulk. “His skating, skills and play-making ability are all there. Getting used to the strength and size at this level will be huge for him, but we definitely think we will see him in the league in the near future.”