Jake Bean’s first pro season was a special one, featuring a historic stat line, leaguewide honors, an NHL recall and a Calder Cup championship. And, as it turns out, it was only the beginning.

Year two has seen Bean elevate his game even further, and people are taking notice.

“He’s playing the best hockey of his career right now,” said head coach Ryan Warsofsky. “He sees the ice so well. He’s playing at a high level and he’s done a great job.”

The 13th overall pick in 2016, it would be easy enough for a player of Bean’s caliber to coast by on his heightened skill set. But that hasn’t been his style.

“He’s a guy who works really, really hard when no one is watching,” said Warsofsky. “On days off he’s coming in and working. He’s one of the first guys on the ice and one of the last guys off. He works extremely hard at his craft and it goes to show right now.”

When it came to his abbreviated offseason, Bean zeroed in on the organization’s feedback and shored up his game, resulting in a new-and-improved arsenal from the blueliner in year two.

“The one thing they wanted to see was me getting another half-step quicker,” said Bean. “So I feel like I’ve gotten faster. And then a lot of it is figuring out what I can do in the game. Getting more comfortable and playing more, you learn where you can jump more and where you can do a little more than you thought you could. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.”

Bean has established himself as one of the league’s premier defensemen this season, earning an invitation to the All-Star Game and garnering award attention.

And as his play rises, Bean’s sights remain set on making the jump to the NHL.

“I’m really confident in my game and that I can play at any level,” he said. “I don’t feel like I have a good game and then come off and think, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I can do that again.’ It’s manageable and I can take that to the next level.”

The offensive-charged style that Bean employs has made him a weapon in the AHL, and the confidence in his game could be his biggest asset as he prepares for the NHL.

“It’s super important,” said Warsofsky. “Especially in the salary cap era where you need young guys to come up and play. It’s going to be important when he goes up to get Rod [Brind’amour] and the coaching staff’s trust because at the end of the day coaches put the players on the ice that they trust the most in critical situations. He’s going to need to go up there and play toward his strengths, not his weaknesses. He understands that.”

With the unfortunate injury to Dougie Hamilton, an opportunity has arisen on the Carolina blue line. As the next man up mentality shifts the focus down to the defensive prospects, Bean’s approach remains the same.

“I don’t think anything really changes, I just want to keep playing consistently,” said Bean. “I try to play my best every single night and that’s not going to change. I think if they watch they can see that I’m consistently playing at my best level and have been for most of this year. If I keep doing that day in and day out good things will happen.”

As he continues to elevate his play on the ice, it’s clear that Bean’s trajectory is aimed at the next level.

“I think the world of the kid as a hockey player and as a person,” said Warsofsky. “He’s been wonderful to work with and we’re excited to keep working with him for as long as he’s here, because it’s only a matter of time before he gets his chance.”