PITTSBURGH — Many eyebrows were raised Friday when the Lightning chose defenseman Slater Koekkoek with the 10th overall pick in the draft.
One who wasn't surprised was Dan Marr.
The director of NHL Central Scouting said Koekkoek, whose name never came up in speculation regarding Tampa Bay's first selection, would have been a top-10 prospect had he not missed five months last season because of a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.
In other words, Koekkoek's No. 23 ranking among North American skaters was a matter of circumstance rather than a straight-up evaluation of his talent.
"He would have been a top-10 candidate," Marr said at the Consol Energy Center. "We knew that his game had taken off in the right direction."
The evaluation should provide solace for those who cringed when the Lightning — saying Koekkoek was its highest-rated player available at the time it chose — passed over forwards Filip Forsberg and Teuvo Teravainen (the top-ranked European skaters) and scorer Mikhail Grigorenko, No. 3 in North America.
"His core strength, he may be one of the better players in the draft," Marr said of Koekkoek, 18. "He's very strong, but he's one of those effortless, fluid skaters. He's got a game.
"He can lead a rush, but the best part of his game is getting the puck out of the (defensive) zone. He'll make that good first pass."
Not that the shoulder wasn't a concern.
Ira Guttentag, the Lightning's medical director, checked out Koekkoek at the prospects combine in Toronto. General manager Steve Yzerman and director of amateur scouting Al Murray watched Koekkoek's workouts.
"He tested extremely well," Yzerman said. "He's a gifted athlete. He's in good shape."
"I used the combine to show that my shoulder was really good, and from there (I) just wanted to put it in the back of my memory," said Koekkoek, 6 feet 2, 184 pounds. "It was a good learning experience."
"I learned to deal with a pretty substantial injury," he added. "I learned how to work hard to get what I want. It was obviously a big adversity thing. To get back to where I was was huge.
None of that surprised Koekkoek's dad, Brian.
"Slater, when he was young, his work ethic was, 'I'm just going to do something,' and he'd do it," he said. "When he was younger, he always said to us, 'I'm going to make the NHL someday.' So, he always had a mission when he went out to play hockey. He'll work hard. He wants to be the best at everything he does."
Koekkoek, who plays for Peterborough of the junior Ontario league and played for Canada at the 2011 under-18 world championship, also seems okay with what he called the "fun-and-games chirping" he hears about his Dutch last name, pronounced "cuckoo."
"I always laugh at it," he said. "I love my name."
"He didn't have any choice in selecting it," Yzerman said, "so he's got to make use of it."
So far, so good.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]