The concerns about defenseman Slater Koekkoek going into 2014-15 could be summed up quiet easily in this one line from his ranking last summer on this list:
Death, taxes, Slater Koekkoek shoulder injuries.
Luckily for Koekkoek and all involved, his first AHL season was blissfully clear of shoulder injuries. The defenseman suited up for 72 of Syracuse's 76 games, and was such a consistent force on the blue line that Tampa rewarded him with his first call up. Koekkoek made his NHL debut with the Lightning on March 31st against Toronto. He played three games with Tampa total and was an even plus/minus with no points and 2 penalty minutes. He averaged 16:35 minutes of ice time while up with the Lightning.
Koekkoek's banner year saw him move up four spots on our list to number 11.
Here's how the panel ranked Slater Koekkoek:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Mike Gallimore||GeoFitz4||Brett Frieman|
Previous rankings: 15 (2014), 17 (2013)
Koekkoek's steady progression up our countdown list has matched the steady progression of his career. He ended the AHL regular season atop the Crunch's scoring list for defensemen, scoring 26 points (5 goals, 21 assists). His +7 +/- was second among defensemen, with only J.P. Cote's +10 topping it.
Koekkoek spent the majority of the season paired with Luke Witkowski, and their contrasting styles clearly suited each other well. Witkowski's more physical, stay-at-home game allowed Koekkoek's fluidity, flexibility, and shot accuracy to shine. One gets the feeling that Koekkoek's offensive capabilities can go even further than what he showed this past season. Hockey's Future wonders about his power play capabilities:
At this point, Koekkoek projects as a second-pairing defenseman with some potential to be a power-play quarterback.
Although allowing a defenseman to quarterback the power play doesn't seem to be the organization's style at the moment, it's certainly an interesting prospect to think about. Koekkoek had one power play goal with Syracuse last season.
Now that he has one full AHL season under his belt with no major injury setbacks, Koekkoek has the potential to have quite the 2015-2016. With no waiver requirements yet, he'll probably start the season in Syracuse, but will be among the first in line for a call up. Bolt Prospects sees him only lasting half a season at best with the Crunch:
Koekkoek has the look of a 20+ minute a night top-four defenseman, and after a strong cup of coffee with the Lightning late in the regular season, it's a decent bet he'll be ready to bolster the team's depth on the blueline by the second half of the coming year at the latest.