In the sixth round of last weekend’s draft, the Lightning continued their trend of drafting overage players either headed to or already playing in the NCAA by selecting Cole Koepke. Koepke is a twenty-year-old forward who played all of last year in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers. If that team rings a bell, that’s likely because fellow Lightning prospect Sammy Walker also played seventeen games there last year after his high school season. This fall, Koepke will head to University of Minnesota-Duluth to continue his career.
Koepke was obviously excited to be drafted. He was in Dallas for the draft and had nice things to say about joining the Lightning and being in the organization with Walker. He described his own game:
I’m a bigger forward, more of a power forward. I’m gonna do things on the penalty kill, and forechecking, getting pucks to the net, and getting out front and using my size to my advantage.
"The feeling is pretty hard to describe. It's something I've dreamed about my entire life growing up as a kid. Just to be here and go through the experience with my family is something we'll all remember."— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 25, 2018
2018 #NHLDraft | Cole Koepke: pic.twitter.com/8XTDErio8M
In sixty games with the Musketeers last season, Koepke put up a respectable 39 points. The most interesting thing about that number is that of those 39 points, 28 were goals. That’s quite a ratio. Looking a little deeper, he took 217 shots, which was fourth in the USHL. He scored on 12% of those shots, which, for a league like the USHL, isn’t particularly good. Without the ability to look at shot locations, we have a lot of missing information. But based on last year’s numbers, we at least know that Koepke is a volume shooter with some potential to fill the net.
The following chart is from prospect-stats.com and shows how Koepke’s stats rank among USHL forwards. Being in the green means he performed like a top line player and being in the red means he performed like a bottom line player.
This chart shows just how stark the contrasts are in Koepke’s offensive game. He was among the best players in the league in generating shots and goals, but contributed very little as a passer. Without seeing him play much, I’m not sure whether that means he’s not a good passer or that he was the best scoring option on the ice for his team and that led to him looking for his shot more than setting up his teammates.
The following is from the 2018 NHL Draft Black Book and gives a little more insight into Koepke’s game:
Koepke has excellent goal scoring instincts. His combination of shot versatility and ability to get himself into scoring position allows him to score in a number of different ways. Koepke is an explosive skater with high end top speed. His size along with his ability to play with speed with the puck is an asset offensively. Koepke works hard at both ends of the ice and plays with a good tenacity and physicality in battles. He has a strong frame and wide shoulders which he uses as an asset in winning pucks and position on the ice.
From this passage, it sounds like Koepke’s game is more about his ability to get into position to get his shot than having a particularly great shot. That probably limits his ceiling as he faces better goaltending, but being able to get to dangerous areas will make him a useful player. The other encouraging thing here is his skating. His offensive instincts combined with the skating should give him a chance to succeed as he transitions to the NCAA game and, hopefully, further in the Lightning organization.
Koepke’s first year of draft eligibility was 2016. He had a good year scoring 53 points in 24 games in high school, but it wasn’t enough to get him drafted. The following year, he suffered an injury that limited him to just twenty two games, something that may have contributed to him being overlooked this year. A player who gets off 217 shots in 60 games (even against weaker competition) and is an “explosive skater” probably deserves a little more attention than Koepke got.
The Lightning made some unusual choices in this year’s draft, but selecting Koepke in the sixth round is one of the bets I like. The likelihood of any player drafted this late making the NHL is slim, but a player who can skate and gets tons of shots is a perfect flyer at this point. When we do our prospect reports this year, he’ll be one name to keep an eye on as he gets his NCAA career started.