Slater Koekkoek is the Blackhawks’newest reclamation project, and both sides hope a fresh start will make the difference for the No. 10 overall pick of the 2012 draft.
Koekkoek couldn’t crack the Lightning’s defensive lines and was on a conditioning assignment with the team’s Syracuse affiliate when the Hawks traded for him Friday. They unloaded Jan Rutta and the remainder of his $2.3 million contract, plus they swapped their upcoming seventh-round pick for the Lightning’s spot in the fifth.
“He had trouble breaking through there, but he has a lot of attributes that can help him be a contributor at our level,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Excellent skater, big body. Still young. Still time to develop, so he’ll have a chance to prove himself.”
The trade puts the Hawks at eight defensemen, and it’s hard to find playing time for that many. They also have Gustav Forsling on injured reserve with an upper-torso injury, and he’s eligible to return anytime.
Koekkoek was not in the lineup Saturday against the Golden Knights after arriving in Chicago late Friday. He could debut Monday at New Jersey.
When he gets on the ice, he’s eying the chance to save his career. He has yet to establish himself and has appeared in 85 games in his five-year career. He hasn’t played in an NHL game since Nov. 19.
“I try and take every day with a positive mindset … but it was definitely weighing on me hard,” he said. “I’m just excited for new scenery, and especially a franchise like this. I couldn’t ask for a better place.”
Koekkoek, 24, expected to be further along by this point and doesn’t have a good answer for why he isn’t.
He was healthy at the time of the trade and was on the conditioning assignment simply to get some game action. He played a career-high 35 games for the Lightning last season and averaged 11:14 of ice time. This year, he has been in nine games and scored one goal.
“Every day I come to the rink and work hard,” Koekkoek said. “Whether it be opportunity or when I got in I didn’t showcase myself as well as I could’ve, I don’t know. It’s a tough thing. I’m thankful to Tampa for everything they gave me, all the opportunities, but I’m looking forward to this here.”
Collaboration under Colliton
The move from Joel Quenneville to Colliton brought a lot of change to the Hawks. That transition is playing out on the ice and behind the scenes.
Consider this: Quenneville is 60 and has coached more than two decades, while Colliton is a first-time NHL coach and the youngest in the league (he turns 34 on Sunday). It’s no surprise that Colliton favors a more collaborative arrangement.
“Joel definitely had that veteran presence and that persona of laying the law of what is expected,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “And maybe now with a bit of a younger staff, it’s more about working through things together and having an open mind on new developments to the game and introducing new things into routines and players.”
Seabrook, Keith return
Hawks defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith have been out sick this week, but both were in the lineup against the Golden Knights.
Pirri on fire
Las Vegas center Brandon Pirri has bounced around since the Hawks traded him to Florida in 2014, but he’s been a scoring machine for the Golden Knights lately. Pirri had seven goals and four assists in nine games coming into Saturday.
“Great one-timer, knows how to get himself open and get his shot off, and that’s fun,” said Colliton, who coached against him in the AHL. “You never know when your opportunity’s going to come, and that’s one thing you try to get across to young players.”
The Hawks drafted Pirri in the second round in 2009, and he had 13 points in 35 games over four seasons. Las Vegas is his fifth team in nine years.