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Lightning send Slater Koekkoek to AHL on conditioning assignment

Slater Koekkoek has been a healthy scratch 20 of the last 21 games.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29), seen during a preseason game against Florida, was sent to the AHL on a conditioning stint.
[DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29), seen during a preseason game against Florida, was sent to the AHL on a conditioning stint. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Dec. 29, 2018|Updated Dec. 29, 2018

TAMPA — Defenseman Slater Koekkoek has not played since Nov. 19, so the Lightning saw the need to get him some game action.

There's just not room in Tampa right now, though. It's why the Lightning sent Koekkoek to AHL Syracuse for a conditioning assignment on Saturday.

The Lightning has so much depth on the blue line that it has given veteran defensemen nights off. The play of rookie Erik Cernak has created a good problem in that he's the seventh defensemen. That has made Koekkoek No. 8 and a healthy scratch since he played about 10 minutes at Nashville in November.

"I do feel for Slater, because obviously he wants to play and deserves to play," Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said. "Every day he comes in, I talk to the coaches, I talk to the strength coach, every day, he comes in, he does extra, he has a great attitude, but he'd like to play more, and I understand that. Right now, we have an opportunity to give him potentially six games over 14 days and we have the roster spot to do it."

The Lightning's blue line is healthy right now, but that can change quickly. If the Lightning needs Koekkoek, it does not want him to not have played in more than two months. He is allowed 14 days with the Crunch, which could include up to six games with the way the schedule works for Syracuse.

Koekkoek has played in nine games this season, most of which came during Victor Hedman's absence with an injury earlier in the season. He scored a goal against Nashville at Amalie Arena.

"The reality is the games he did play are probably the best games he's played for us since he's been here," BriseBois said. "It's not that he's done anything wrong. I've told him 'I can't ask any more of you, but the opportunities are what they are and the other guys are ahead of you on the depth chart.'"

Contact Nick Kelly at nkelly@tampabay.com and Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @_NickKelly and @dianacnearhos.

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