Go back to the summer of 2016 and Jake Bean knew he'd likely be a first-round pick in that June's NHL draft.
He also knew he likely wouldn't become a Columbus Blue Jacket.
The Jackets held the No. 3 overall pick that year, and while Bean was thought of as one of the best prospects in the draft, he didn't figure to go quite that high -- an intuition that proved to be correct when Columbus chose Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Still, the Blue Jackets welcomed Bean to Columbus for a predraft visit, one that he still remembers five years later.
"They had a pretty high pick that year," Bean remembers. "It was the year they picked Duber, so I wasn't expecting to go that high, but I went to breakfast with some guys. I met Jarmo (Kekalainen) and John Davidson, and they were really nice. I didn't really know anything about Columbus, but the rink was awesome, everyone was really professional and the city was great, so that was one of the places I really wanted to go."
In the end, Bean was chosen 13th in the draft by Carolina, eventually becoming a regular with the Hurricanes last season. And now, suddenly, he's a Blue Jacket, as the 23-year-old defenseman was acquired by Columbus for a second-round pick in late July and signed to a three-year contract extension.
While Bean hasn't had too many chances to spend time in the capital city in the intervening five years, he said he's looking forward to finally getting the chance to don the union blue this upcoming season.
"I am really excited," he said. "I was really excited when I got traded. I know how nice of a city Columbus is and how good of an organization they are. I am really fortunate, and I enjoyed by time in Carolina a lot, but I'm excited for a new opportunity in Columbus. I can't say enough about how ready to go I am and how ready to help the team I am."
As it turns out, Kekalainen remembered Bean about as fondly as the player recalled Columbus. The Blue Jackets were high on Bean during that draft year and kept tabs on him over the past few years as he worked his way from junior hockey to the American Hockey League and finally to the NHL.
That trek probably didn't happen as quickly as Bean would have liked -- he skated in two full seasons for Charlotte of the AHL before becoming a regular with the defense-heavy Hurricanes -- but that also allowed Kekalainen and his front office crew chances to keep tabs on the defenseman.
"Jake Bean is a player we really liked in his draft year," Kekalainen said. "We had him really high. He was an offensive dynamo in the Western Hockey League, scoring over 20 goals his draft year. It's taken him a little longer. There's a perfect example of a guy who took a little while in the minors, had some great numbers in the American League, and this year he was running the No. 2 power play for Carolina, which is a very good team.
"We followed Jake Bean a lot because we always do with the guys that we like from the draft, just to see, 'Were we right? Were we wrong? What did we see? What did we not see?'"
In many ways, the Jackets were right that Bean had the talent to be an NHL player, but it has taken maybe a little longer than some observers expected for the 6-foot-1, 186-pounder to make it to the league. After being drafted by the Hurricanes, the Alberta native returned to the WHL for two more seasons of junior hockey. In his first pro season, Bean made his NHL debut with two games in a Carolina sweater, but he spent most of the 2018-19 season with Charlotte of the AHL.
He was back with the Checkers in 2019-20 and starred, earning the Eddie Shore Award as the league's best defenseman when he led all blueliners in scoring with 48 points, totaling 10 goals and 38 assists. Last season, he broke into the NHL full-time, earning a spot in the loaded Carolina defensive corps and finishing with a goal and 11 assists in 42 games while also playing in 11 postseason contests.
"When I got to that opportunity to play those minutes in the regular season and in the playoffs when I got a number of games playing bigger minutes, that's when my game was the best and that's when I feel like I improved the most," Bean said. "With more opportunities like that, I feel like I can only get better.
"I think I had two really good years in the American League to the point I probably couldn't have gotten any better or gotten any more out of the league, but at the same time you don't really know until you do it. So when I did get the opportunity, I felt like played really well and got a lot better, and it made me even more excited to keep working hard and keep getting better."
As for what fans can expect, Bean feels his game works in all three zones. He was a top scorer in juniors, notching 24 goals in 2015-16 with Calgary to lead the WHL in tallies from the blue line, while he also feels he can hold his own against the top players in the league in his defensive zone. Kekalainen, meanwhile, has lauded the young defenseman's ability to run a power play, as he became a key part of the Canes' man advantage unit last year and scored his lone goal on the power play.
"I think I am a good two-way defenseman," he said. "I think a lot of the stuff I'm good at is some of the boring stuff. I feel like I can play against the other teams' top lines and play under control and make a good first pass, and then when I'm in the offensive zone, I feel like I can be pretty dynamic."
With the Blue Jackets saying goodbye to regulars Seth Jones and Michael Del Zotto from the defensive corps a year ago, there should be plenty of opportunity for Bean to take an even bigger step forward this upcoming season.
"We think that he has great potential to play in the top four in the National Hockey League," Kekalainen said. "Time will tell, as always, but he's going to get a great opportunity with us to play to his strengths. He's another guy who can run a power play and has been very effective doing it. We're very excited about that. Jake Bean is going to be a great addition."