Friday, May 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Slater Koekkoek ready to make impact with Lightning

BRANDON — Considering the hard luck D Slater Koekkoek has had with injuries, it would be easy for him to be down.

But after Koekkoek's past three seasons ended with shoulder surgeries — two on his left, the latest on his right — he and the Lightning have to look on the bright side.

"The good news is he only has two shoulders," GM Steve Yzerman said. "He can't hurt another one."

Koekkoek, 20, taken 10th overall in the 2012 draft, is feeling good entering what will be his first professional season, most likely with AHL Syracuse. Koekkoek has participated in noncontact drills during the Lightning development camp that ends today at the Ice Sports Forum but has been held out of the three-on-three tournament as a precaution.

Koekkoek (pronounced KOO-KOO) believes he'll be 100 percent by training camp, his shoulders finally not an issue.

"It's hard," he said. "I've gotten the same questions for how long now? But maybe I got them fixed up now and I'll be good for the next 20 years. It's something I had to deal with. It's not my fault or anything; just had a bad break. And I'm just going to move forward."

Koekkoek was playing well for Windsor in the Ontario junior league last season, racking up 15 goals and 38 assists in 62 games. He believes he really improved his defensive zone coverage, not jumping into every rush.

"I thought he was the best defenseman in the (league)," director of player development Stacy Roest said. "At the (trade) deadline, teams wanted him. He made some big strides. It was fun to watch his game evolve."

But Koekkoek's season ended with a fight that came while defending a teammate. Protecting his left shoulder, Koekkoek hurt his right one following through on a punch.

"Bad break," he said. "You've got to live with it."

Yzerman believes with the procedures Koekkoek had, his shoulder problems should be over and he can resume his promising career.

"He's a great prospect," Yzerman said.

ON A ROLL: Team Filppula ruled the first day of the three-on-three tournament, going 3-0.

The group is made up of 2014 first-round draft pick D Anthony DeAngelo (three goals, four assists), Notre Dame F Jeff Costello (four goals, three assists), LW Brendan O'Donnell (four goals, three assists) and 2014 third-round pick F Brayden Point (three goals).

"We had really good chemistry," Costello said. "But the big day is (today)."

RW Jonathan Drouin, the third overall pick in 2013, had two goals. G Andrei Vasilevskiy had the best save percentage (.933), stopping 28 of 30 shots.

LOCAL FLAVOR: G Clay Witt, a Brandon native, has made a good impression during camp, including during three-on-three play. It includes a shutout in the first game and going 38-of-45 overall on save chances. Witt, a Northeastern University senior, is a free agent. Tampa Bay has a glut of goaltenders.

"He gets to measure himself against three pretty good prospects," Roest said. "I like what I see, for sure."

SPECIAL TREAT: The Lightning's prospects enjoyed go-karting Friday afternoon in a team-building exercise.

"I was awful. I was last in every race," said 2014 sixth-round pick F Cristiano DiGiacinto. "But it was fun."

The highlight, however, was a tour of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, including the dressing room.

"It was incredible," 2014 fourth-round pick D Ben Thomas said. "Going into the dressing room is amazing.

"Thinking about that being my room is pretty exciting if that'll ever happen."

MISCELLANY: 2014 second-round pick D Johnathan MacLeod returned to Boston University, so he did not compete in three-on-three play. … Only Koekkoek and D Adam Erne (wrist) were held out.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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