As Training Camp begins here in the Sunshine State, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek is working hard in the hopes of earning a spot on the main roster.
The off-season is quickly approaching its end, and while hockey fans have been held over by all the action taking place at the Air Canada Centre for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Tampa Bay Lightning fans here in the Sunshine State are longing to see their Boys in Blue back out on the ice.
While there are still 19 days between now and the first official puck drop of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2016-17 season, the team is already hard at work preparing themselves for the impending season with the start of Training Camp, which kicked off on Thursday, September 22nd.
Unfortunately, there are 12 players who were not available for the start of training camp. As most Lightning fans know by now, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was joined by forwards Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula, Jonathan Drouin, Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, , defensemen Andrej Sustr, Nikita Nesterov, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and goaltenders Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy at the World Cup of Hockey.
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At the same time, there is one player at Training Camp who is working as hard as humanly possible in the hopes of earning himself a permanent spot on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s main roster. That player is Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek.
Last season, Koekkoek got a taste of what it takes to play at one of the highest levels in the National Hockey League. During the regular season, Slater Koekkoek was afforded the opportunity to play in a total of nine games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In that amount of time, he was able to score an assist.
While this may not seem like anything to write home about, it was his defensive strengths that really made an impact on the team. For someone who only played in nine games, Koekkoek came up pretty good. In terms of defensemen who played less than half the season, he came in second place on the team with six hits.
Sure…this may not seem like much at face value, but allow us to put this in perspective for you. At .7 hits per game, Koekkoek finished higher than both Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr and former Lightning defenseman Matt Carle.
Furthermore, which player do you think finished just one position higher than Koekkoek when it comes to Hits Per Game? I’m betting a number of you couldn’t fathom Koekkoek being in the same discussion as this player at this point in time in his career. The player who finished just .1 Hits Per Game ahead of Koekkoek…the one and only Victor Hedman.
In addition to his play over the course of the regular season, Koekkoek had an opportunity to take the ice with the Tampa Bay Lightning during their deep run through the postseason. Koekkoek’s contributions to the team continued on into the Eastern Conference Final where the Lightning would face off with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This kind of experience is invaluable to a young player like Koekkoek. It is also this kind of experience that inspires a player to work that much harder to make his spot on the main roster a little more permanent.
In an interview with the Lightning after the first day of on-ice training, Koekkoek discussed just how much earning a permanent spot on the team means to him and what he’s willing to do to accomplish his goal.
“It’s everything. I worked to get here and hopefully I can make it and get that spot and help the team win throughout the season,” Koekkoek said.
If you ask just about any human being, especially ones who have chosen to become athletes, they are their own worst enemies when it comes to being critical of themselves. Thankfully, Koekkoek has found ways to stay grounded and concentrate on what’s important.
“You know, my parents help me with telling me to just have fun and whatever is meant to happen will and I think that’s a big thing. Just going out and playing my game and just see what happens.”
In the past, Slater Koekkoek has had his career sidelined by a number of serious injuries. Now that his setbacks are a thing of the past, you can bet he’s ready to hit the ice full force and make the most of the opportunity that has been presented to him.
Given the changes that have been made to the Lightning’s blueline over the course of the off-season, more specifically the departure of Matt Carle, means there is an opening on the blueline; one that could easily be captured by a young, determined defenseman like Koekkoek who is ready to fight for what he wants.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s yearly Training Camp has only just started, but as you can see there are players already leaving everything out on the ice in the hopes of finding a spot on the Lightning’s main roster in the 2016-17 season. It will be interesting to see what changes the Bolts will make before the puck drops in October.