2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Slater Koekkoek, ranked as the 23rd best North American skater in the final CSS rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab. We’re also working on a mock draft, which will be published next week.

On Monday evening, 105 draft hopefuls converged on Toronto to participate in the annual National Hockey League Scouting Combine. Thirty-two defensemen were seeking to make that lasting impression on the bevy of scouts, representing all 30 NHL organizations. Peterborough’s (OHL) Slater Koekkoek, once looked at as a potential top-10 overall selection in this June’s Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, was simply hoping to show the many team representatives – including medical staffs – that he is physically ready to perform.

Back in late November, Koekkoek – the 6-foot-3, 200-pound blue-liner from Mountain (population 11,225), Ontario – suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a regular-season game in Windsor. The injury caused him to miss his team’s final 40 regular games, and left his draft standing in question.

“I had surgery on my left shoulder back in January,” said Koekkoek, while rehabbing back in February. “Hopefully, not playing won’t have an effect on when I get selected.”

Despite the inactivity, which limited Koekkoek’s point-scoring total to 18 – five goals and 13 assists – in just 26 OHL games, TSN’s Craig Button has still pegged the potential top-pairing defenseman as a fringe first-round selection, ranking him as his 33rd overall prospect in June’s NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.

The six-day draft showcase – May 28-June 2 – will allow Koekkoek, an admirer of former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe, an opportunity to strengthen his case as a sure-bet first rounder in an expected defensive-laden draft.

“Slater is a dynamic player with exceptional raw talent,” said Peterborough second-year head coach Mike Pelino, who joined the Petes at the start of the 2010-11 season after spending the last seven years coaching on the professional level, serving as an Assistant Coach in both the Florida Panthers (two seasons) and New York Rangers (five seasons) organizations. “He has tremendous puck skills and to me, his biggest assets are his desire and compete level.

“Right now, if Slater hadn’t suffered his season-ending injury, he’d be the premiere defenseman in our league.”

Prior to being selected seventh overall in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection Draft by the Petes, ahead of potential 2012 NHL draftees Matthew Finn (12th by Guelph) and Nick Ebert (17th by Missassauga St. Michael’s), Koekkoek would excel on the Midget Level. He would do so in a region nearly 1,500 miles from home.

“After I made the decision to fully commit to play competitive hockey at age nine in Major Adam, a few years later – at age 14 – I moved away from my parents and decided to play Midget Hockey in Saskatchewan,” said Koekkoek, who would attend the prestigious Notre Dame Hounds program in Wilcox, Saskatchewan for the next two years. “It was a big transition to living with three other guys, but I absolutely loved the experience.”

One of Koekkoek’s roommates – fellow 2012 NHL draftee Morgan Rielly of the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors – would become his best friend. The 6-foot, 190-pound Rielly is projected to be selected among the draft’s top-10 overall picks.

In his second season at Notre Dame, Koekkoek would help the Hounds capture the National Midget Championship – The Telus Cup – and in the process win the MVP in the title game, as he had a goal and an assist. In 44 regular season games, Koekkoek averaged a shade under a point-per-game, collecting 43 points – 16 goals and 27 assists. He also racked up 91 penalty minutes. In the postseason, he would record seven points – three goals and four assists – in 13 games.

Koekkoek transition to the OHL – as a 16-year-old (born February 18, 1994) – was seamless, according to Koekkoek himself.

“I knew that the CHL route was right route for me,” said Koekkoek. “It is a great league for hockey development.”

As a rookie, Koekkoek played a shade under a full season’s schedule – 65-of-68 games – where he collected 23 points – seven goals and 16 assists – and racked up 67 penalty minutes.

“Slater came in and played with great confidence, from the outset,” said Pelino, whose resume also includes having a hand in 11 Gold Medal Championships, including Olympic Gold for Team Canada in 2002, two World Championships, a World Junior Championship, a Spengler Cup Championship and an under-18 Championship. “He is offensive-minded as (current New York Rangers defenseman) Michael Del Zotto and has the defensive abilities, similar to (current New York Rangers defenseman) Marc Staal.

Pelino, who served as Tom Renney’s assistant in New York for five seasons, helped develop both Del Zotto and Staal into legitimate top-four NHL defensemen.

In the midst of Koekkoek’s rookie campaign, he was invited to play for Team Canada-Ontario in the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg. He also earned a spot with Team Canada in the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Championships in Germany.

In Winnipeg, playing alongside potential 2012 draftees Finn and Erie (OHL) Otters defenseman Adam Pelech, Team Canada-Ontario defeated Team U.S.A., 5-3 to win the tournament’s Gold Medal. Koekkoek had a goal and two assists in five games.

In Germany, playing alongside best friend Rielly, along with two potential 2010 top-10 selections – Everett (WHL) defenseman Ryan Murray and Ottawa (OHL) defenseman Cody Ceci – Team Canada failed to medal. They fell to Nail Yakupov – the prohibitive choice to be selected first overall in June’s Entry Draft – and Team Russia in the Bronze Medal Game. Yakupov notched a hat trick in the victory. Koekkoek had a goal and an assist in seven games.

“Playing in two under-18 tournaments gave me an opportunity to see where I stand in the World stage,” said Koekkoek, who was set to play alongside Red Deer defenseman Matthew Dumba at this past April’s IIHF World Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic, before he suffered his shoulder injury. “You can’t go wrong with any of the defensemen, expected to be selected near the top of the draft.

“For me, I want to play in the NHL as soon as I can. I just don’t want to rush anything.”

Pelino sees a diamond in the rough in Koekkoek.

“Slater’s presence on the ice makes me compare his play to that of (Nashville defenseman) Shea Weber and (Los Angeles Kings defenseman) Drew Doughty,” said Pelino, who wasn’t shy in naming Koekkoek as an assistant captain – as a 17-year-old – before his team took camp in late summer. “He makes others around him better.

“Once he fully develops physically, he is definitely someone who can play early next season in the NHL. He has all the attributes and the skill-set necessary to be a top-flight defenseman.”

In hopes of securing a potential top-four defenseman, Koekkoek could either be a fall-back or a trade-up option for the Islanders. If Koekkoek, whose play is compared favorably to both Winnipeg Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler, passes all medical tests at this week’s scouting combine, one should expect to hear his name to be called in the 15-to-25 range at June’s entry draft.

The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is just 23 days away.