The Slater Koekkoek experience is over for the time being. Today the Lightning announced that defenseman Slater Koekkoek has be reassigned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL and veteran defenseman Matt Taormina has been recalled.
LIGHTNING RECALL DEFENSEMAN MATT TAORMINA FROM SYRACUSE
Koekkoek Reassigned to Syracuse
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have recalled defenseman Matt Taormina from the Syracuse Crunch today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced. Additionally, the club announced that defenseman Slater Koekkoek has been reassigned to Syracuse.
Taormina, 29, has skated in one game with the Lightning this season, a 1-0 loss against the Florida Panthers on November 16. The 5-foot-9, 192-pound defenseman has appeared in 57 career NHL games, registering four goals and 12 points. Taormina ranks tied for second on the Crunch for points with 31. He leads all Syracuse defensemen for goals, assists and points this season.
Koekkoek, 22, has appeared in four games with the Bolts this season, notching two penalty minutes and three shots on goal. He has also skated in 43 games with the Crunch this season, posting four goals and 12 points to go along with 22 penalty minutes. The Mountain, Ontario native has appeared in 115 career AHL games, all with the Crunch over the past two seasons, notching nine goals and 38 points. Last season, Koekkoek led all Syracuse defenders for points (26) and assists (21).
It seems that General Manager Steve Yzerman has realized that head coach Jon Cooper was not going to trust or use the rookie Koekkoek in the lineup. Make no mistake, Slater Koekkoek is a part of the future of the Bolts; a future two-way/top four defenseman. He is a good skater that has had his development slowed by multiple shoulder injuries that brought each of his last three junior seasons to an early end.
Koekkoek got his first taste of the NHL in 2014-15 with three games towards the end of the season playing 15:31, 17:55, and 16:19 on the road while posting no points and an even plus-minus rating. He also made a brief cameo back in October of this season playing a season high 10:21 at home against Buffalo. After the injury to Jason Garrison, Koekkoek was again brought to Tampa where he would promptly sit in the pressbox for two games. He would then play two games as the 7th defenseman before playing against the Penguins as the 6th defenseman. In those three games he played 7:58, 7:59, and 9:27 with a plus-1 rating and no points.
When Garrison was injured, one would think that Yzerman would have gone to Jon Cooper to form a plan of who to call up and how they would use them. Maybe that didn't actually happen or maybe this was the plan all along. However, from the outside it looks like Cooper has been completely unwilling to trust the smooth skating youngster with any real ice time. The value to the organization was debatable with how little time he was playing, time that he could be spending in the AHL further refining his play. Sure, he gained some invaluable experience, but he was extremely protected and never able to get into a real flow in any game often only having a handful of shifts in a period. Now, he'll be able to resume his development playing big minutes again for Syracuse.
Now, the team has made the move that I expected that made more sense when the other option was how Slater Koekkoek was used. Matt Taormina and Luke Witkowski both offered the team veteran options that were just as capable of playing as a 7th defenseman and serving popcorn. Both of these players are pretty much done with developing and not harmed much by the scratches and low ice time. It seems that Yzerman finally realized that too, that Koekkoek would not get played, would not get prepared for the eventuality that this happens again later in the season or in the playoffs. They've been lucky that Matt Carle has played better in the past two games and perhaps it's a sign that he's turning a corner however unlikely that seems to be. The Lightning's blue line depth continues to be shaky and are only an injury or a regression away from being forced to throw an unprepared defenseman into bigger minutes.