Lightning defenseman Matt Carle did not have the greatest game in Game 6 at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He totaled just over five minutes of time on ice with his last shift ending 7:40 into the 2nd period. That shift also ended in the Penguins second goal of the game, scored by Kris Letang.
Looking back at the goal, at first I didn't think Carle had done anything wrong. Then I looked a second and third time. What I saw was that Carle came out and barely challenged the puck carrier, Conor Sheary. He didn't take him out, he didn't try to disrupt him other than to put his stick in the way of a potential shot. Sheary was able to pull up and pass the puck to Letang as Carle disengaged to "cover" Patric Hornqvist who screened Andrei Vasilevskiy in front of the net. He didn't do much on Hornqvist either other than to give him a little tap on the back as he skated by.
Whatever head coach Jon Cooper and assistant coach Rick Bowness saw in Carle must have been enough. Before that point, Slater Koekkoek had only taken 5 shifts for a total of 3:35. After that goal, Koekkoek would take 15 shifts leading him to a total of 12:58 time on ice for the game. He was on the ice for the last four goals scored in the game and picked up an assist on Brian Boyle's second goal in the third period. Koekkoek was also on the ice with Victor Hedman as the other defenseman at the end of the game with the goalie pulled.
It's taken long enough, but it seems that Cooper has finally found some trust in Slater Koekkoek. The young defenseman was taken 10th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He's had three different surgeries for shoulder issues. This is the second year in the last 5 that he's been healthy at the end of the season. Despite those health complications, he's come along by leaps and bounds since starting his professional career in Syracuse last season. He missed a lot of developmental time in Juniors because of the shoulder injuries and he had to make up a lot of ground.
Now, we are seeing the fruits of his efforts and the faith that Steve Yzerman and Al Murray had in taking him in 2012 despite the first shoulder injury that limited him to 26 games in his draft year. Koekkoek is the best defenseman skater in the organization not named Victor Hedman. Some people in the media have even dubbed him "Hedman Lite" and that really isn't a bad comparison.
It's time for Matt Carle to take his place in the press box serving popcorn. His skating and his abilities are no longer up to the challenge of playing against elite talent. Slater Koekkoek is ready, willing, and able. He has the skating. He has the vision. He has the passing. It's time to unleash the beast. It's time for Jon Cooper to return to a six defenseman alignment and for Slater Koekkoek to be one of those six.