The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed defenseman Slater Koekkoek to a one-year contract worth $865,000. The contract is a raise from his previous one-year contract that paid him $800,000 for 2017-18. Koekkoek also makes the eighth defenseman the Lightning have under contract that is NHL caliber.
There’s a definite question here about whether Koekkoek will find his way into the lineup. It’s possible with the coaching shuffle and Rick Bowness being shown the door that Koekkoek will get something of a fresh start with Todd Richards taking over the defensemen. The league has demonstrated that you need mobile defensemen to be successful. Koekkoek is certainly a very good skater on the blue line. He doesn’t lack size either coming in at 6’2” and 194 pounds.
Koekkoek only played in 35 games for the Lightning in 2017-18, often as a seventh defenseman. He had four goals and eight points while averaging 11:14 TOI. Overall, he has 13 points in 76 NHL games. He also has an assist in 10 playoff games all played in 2015-16 when it seemed like he was on his way to a full time roster spot. With the certainty that he would be claimed, he was on the roster for all of 2017-18, but there was quite a logjam on the blue line with eight defensemen on the roster, which increased to nine when Ryan McDonagh was acquired at the deadline.
Koekkoek’s main competition for playing time are Braydon Coburn and Jake Dotchin. Coburn, like Koekkoek, is a left-handed defenseman and is currently expected to be the anchor of the third pair. Dotchin is right handed, but they both can fit as the seventh defenseman on the roster. There have been rumblings that one of Koekkoek or Dotchin would be traded, but nothing has happened on that front. There’s also the possibility of moving Coburn, though the salary cap doesn’t make that necessary unless the Lightning want to make some other move to add salary after missing out on John Tavares.
I would like to see Coburn traded now that his modified No Trade Clause has started to give Koekkoek a real opportunity to play on the third pairing while Dotchin serves as the 7th defenseman. Koekkoek still has promise and potential at just 24 years old. He lost out on a lot of development time during his junior years when he had three seasons cut short with shoulder injuries. Those injuries are behind him, but he’s still playing catch up on his development.
From what I have seen on the ice from him, Koekkoek certainly has the ability to play in the NHL and deserves a chance to do so. If Todd Richards is going to use him and treat him in the same manner as Rick Bowness did, then I would like to see him traded. Give him an opportunity to catch on somewhere else instead of wasting away in the press box or playing limited minutes when the team dresses seven defensemen.