Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning drafts defenseman Slater Koekkoek, goalie Andrei Vasilevski

PITTSBURGH — The Lightning did exactly what was expected Friday night in the first round of the draft: It selected a defenseman.

It just wasn't a defenseman anyone expected. Tampa Bay, with the No. 10 overall pick, took Slater Koekkoek from Peterborough of the Ontario junior league.

"It was very quick," Al Murray, the Lightning's director of amateur scouting, said of the decision. "As soon as he was still there, it was easy to put his name down."

It might have been easy for Tampa Bay, but it was a shock to many at the Consol Energy Center. Koekkoek, 18, had not surfaced in any speculation about the Lightning's picks, played just 26 games last season because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder and was ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the 23rd-best North American skater.

More eyebrows were raised because of who was still on the draft board.

Though seven top-ranked defensemen had been taken, Cody Ceci and Olli Maatta were available, as were forwards Filip Forsberg and Teuvo Teravainen (the top-ranked European skaters) and hot-shot scorer Mikhail Grigorenko.

Considering Murray and general manager Steve Yzerman preached for weeks they would take the best available player, it seemed the pick would come from that group.

But as Murray said of Koekkoek — pronounced "cuckoo," (yes, that's right) — "He was absolutely the best player on our list. He's a terrific skater. He's going to be a point producer as well as a real solid defensive player. … The only reason he might have fallen on some lists is because of his injury."

"A huge thrill," Koekkoek said of his selection in front of 35 family and friends. "My heart was racing up in the stands I was so excited."

The Lightning with the 19th overall pick took Andrei Vasilevski, the No. 1-ranked European goaltender.

Normally that would have been a big deal. Vasilevski, 17, the first goalie picked in the draft, led Russia to silver at this year's world junior championship with a 2.01 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.

The 6-foot-3, 204-pounder said he is even considering getting out of two remaining years of his contract with Ufa so he can play juniors in North America.

"The only thing I can tell you for sure is that I want to play in the NHL," he said through an interpreter. As for what he knows about the Lightning, Vasilevski said, "It's the team where (Steven) Stamkos is."

The Lightning knows plenty about Koekkoek, 6-2, 184 pounds. He attended Notre Dame Academy in 2009-10 in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, just south of Regina, where Murray lives.

"So I got a chance to see him play quite a bit," Murray said.

What he saw was Koekkoek help lead Notre Dame, the same program that produced Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier, to the Canadian midget championship at which Murray said Koekkoek was most valuable player.

Murray said Koekkoek, at 16, was the youngest player for Canada's bronze-medal team at the 2011 under-18 world championship.

At the prospects combine, Yzerman said, Lightning medical director Ira Guttentag gave Koekkoek's shoulder a clean bill of health.

Add it all up, Yzerman said, and there were no worries while many players presumed to be on the Lightning's draft list were picked.

"We do our own list and rank all these guys, and we had Slater very high on our list," Yzerman said. "Regardless of how that order went, he was a guy we were looking to take with that pick. I'm very confident in Al and our entire staff. They're out there watching these guys."

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