As the highly ranked defenseman were selected one after another at the 2012 NHL draft Friday night, it certainly seemed as if the Tampa Bay Lightning might go for a forward instead of the defenseman it was expected to pick. After all with Filip Forsberg and Teuvo Teravainen (the top two European skaters) still available as well as hot-shot Mikhail Grigorenko, it seemed a logical expectation.
Instead, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman stunned the crowd at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh by selecting defenseman Slater Koekkoek, the No. 23 ranked North American skater, who was limited to 26 games last season because of a torn labrum.
"A huge thrill," Koekkoek said. "My heart was racing up in the stands. I was so excited."
With the No. 19 overall pick, Tampa Bay took Russian Andrei Vasilevski, the No. 1-ranked European goalie.
But it was the selection of Koekkoek that raised eyebrows.
It seemed an odd pick. All week, Yzerman and director of amateur scouting Al Murray said they would pick the best available player, regardless of position. If that held true, perhaps they see something the scouts at NHL Central Scouting missed.
Koekkoek, 18, at 6 feet 2, 184 pounds, played for Peterborough of the junior Ontario League. He has five goals, 18 points in 26 games last season. He had seven goals, 23 points in 65 games in 2010-11, when he played for Canada in the world under-18 tournament and had two points in seven games to help his team to the bronze medal.