They are a commodity highly sought-after in the NHL draft at any time, but we're hearing a lot of talk the past few years that "the game is evolving" and now NHL teams live and die by whether or not they've got a blueliner with soft hands and an eye for a first pass.
To this new school of thought, a player like Calgary's 6'1, 180lb Jake Bean, playing with his hometown Hitmen, is manna from heaven at draft time. Bean is an incredibly smooth-skating offensive defenseman who has been lighting up the Western Hockey League this season and showing the kind of talent that will get 17-year-olds noticed very quickly indeed in his second junior season, after originally making the team as a 16-year-old.
24 goals and 40 assists would be considered a decent haul as a forward in most draft years - Bean has done it (and, by the way, ranked second on his team in goals) while spending most of the time lining up as the back line of defense.
This isn't surprising to long-time draft watchers, though....as a 16-year old Bean collected 34 assists and has benefited markedly the past two seasons from pairing with an already-drafted partner, Travis Sanheim (drafted 17 by Philadelphia in 2014). He has shown notable development this year from the raw but exciting 16-year-old he was, and that's a trend that can be expected to continue the next few seasons.
Let's talk about that puck movement, though. The simple fact is, there probably isn't a better pure puck-mover in the 2016 draft (some are close, but Bean has the combination of quick feet, quick hands and a quick mind that makes scouts fall over themselves to recommend a blueliner)..traits that are amply demonstrated right here:
You don't have to watch that video long at all to realise that what we are dealing with here is a truly exceptional offensive D talent. The confidence, the skating, the patience (particularly well demonstrated in only the second highlight, where Bean appears to slow the game down to his own pace before finding the back of the net and freeze everyone around him) and the sheer speed of thought is obvious for all to see.
Note particularly the number of assists that see Bean lead the rush into the zone yet have enough calmness and awareness to circle back and look for a team-mate rather than simply charge into a dead-end (the passage of play around 4:40 into the video is a particularly good example of this trait, though it can be seen throughout the video whenever his assists are the topic being showcased. This is a player seemingly with ice in his veins and the kind of natural, head-up awareness that marks out the elite players of his type.
His skating, too, is showcased - the number of times his quick feet create the space for either a pass or a shot is very, very high indeed, along with the speed of the rush.
Then, bear in mind this is a player who hasn't actually turned 18, and still has, at minimum, two more seasons available of development in juniors alone.
It's development time he'll probably need, however. While Bean's skating, positioning and offensive instincts are elite, his defensive play needs work - at the junior level his incredible foot speed will get him out of most jams but as the players get bigger and faster working up the pyramid, the mistakes he does make may not see opposition forwards be so forgiving.
Physically, too (although it could be argued this is not the priority for a player of Bean's type) he's lacking a little - notice the almost complete lack of any physical play in the highlights, or even, really, the hint of it. That's the kind of trait that may seem him targeted by opposition forecheckers, who again in the NHL will be harder to escape than those he's faced at junior level.
Bean is (probably) several years away from jumping into an NHL lineup, which means that he'll likely appeal far more to teams who've settled on a strong or at least tolerable defensive core for the near future...however, with the game going the way it is, he is unquestionably a hot property. He has the skills and smarts to be a key contributor on an NHL blueline, and will go in the first round.
The question is, whether it'll be earlier than his mid-round ranking in most scouting services (he's ranked mostly in the teens, right around where Boston pick first at 14, as it happens, and will be fighting hard with Charlie McAvoy (who we've already looked at) in consideration for the more specialised "offensive D" slot (there is, in fact, an argument that teams could take both given their rankings and suitable picks available, just like Boston have.) or whether the slightly longer development time and more specialised skill set he has right now may see him fall slightly to a lucky suitor in the late teens or early 20s.
What Jake Bean has in his favour above all is an almost unbearable lightness of touch both in skating and puck-moving...a touch and feel for the puck that is like few others in this blueline class.
That alone will mean he is under the microscope and in the minds of a lot of teams come draft day, including Boston.