Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Koekkoek in healing pattern

BRANDON — As the action swirled on the ice below him, Slater Koekkoek sat mostly still while watching from an overhang at the corner of the rink.

It was all for the best, the prized prospect acknowledged Tuesday about being held out of the three-on-three tournament that is the centerpiece of the Lightning's five-day development camp at the Ice Sports Forum.

But that didn't make being a spectator — "a big downer," he called it — any easier.

You can't blame Tampa Bay for being careful with Koekkoek, 19, the No. 10 overall pick of the 2012 draft. The team projects him as perhaps a top-two defenseman. But in January, he had a second reconstructive procedure on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum.

The first operation, done during his draft year, failed. So, this time, Koekkoek (pronounced KOO-KOO) underwent a Latarjet procedure in which the coracoid bone of the shoulder blade is twisted slightly into a position where, with the help of a titanium screw, it anchors the shoulder in its socket.

"It will limit range of motion a little bit but not significantly, nothing functional," said Tommy Mulligan, the Lightning's head athletic trainer.

General manager Steve Yzerman said the expectation is Koekkoek will be cleared for contact by training camp.

"It's been pretty hard," Koekkoek said of the medical issues and seemingly constant rehabbing that limited him to 68 games the past two seasons. "Every day I work hard to keep the dream of playing in the NHL. That's all I think about. That's all I want and, hopefully, it can come true here soon."

Koekkoek, 6 feet 2, 183 pounds, will play next season for Windsor of the junior Ontario league. A great place to learn, he said, because coach Bob Boughner was a 10-year NHL defenseman.

Despite missing 68 games the past two seasons — something Yzerman said, "certainly doesn't help" — the belief is Koekkoek's development has not been significantly affected.

"He played (42) games last year," Yzerman said. "There are kids in college who played a full season of fewer games than him."

Added Al Murray, the Lightning's director of amateur scouting: "When I think of Slater's game, his skating is effortless, so that's not going to change. His hockey sense is very good and that's not going to change.

"What does slow down is his physical development. If he had been able to work out for two solid years he might be 200 pounds now and he would still have the same skating and hockey sense."

Both came in handy for Koekkoek as a power play quarterback and for knowing when to join the rush. His heavy, accurate shot has produced 18 goals and 70 points in 133 junior games.

"He's able to play in all situations," Murray said. "You don't want to get overly excited, but we took a player we think has a terrific chance to be a big part of the core of our team, and we still believe that."

Nice to hear, of course, but Koekkoek will have to wait for training camp to show the Lightning brass all he can do.

"It's tough whenever you play hockey and that's all you love," he said of sitting out three-on-threes. "Big picture, it was the right thing to do."

TOURNAMENT NOTES: Defenseman Nikita Nesterov and center Cedric Paquette had four goals each in three games and Paquette added nine assists for Team Hedman. Right wing Nikita Kucherov had three goals, eight points for Team Stamkos and left wing Jonathan Drouin had a goal and three points for Team Brewer. … Left wing Maxime Langelier-Parent (hip rehab) did not play. … Today's quarterfinals, semifinals and final will be streamed live at tampabaylightning.com at about 11:15 a.m.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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