Of all the players attending this year's NHL Scouting Combine coming off serious injury, perhaps no one will be more scrutinized than Peterborough Petes defenseman Slater Koekkoek.
Let's face it, Koekkoek possesses as much raw skill as any other draft-eligible defenseman in the 2012 Draft. But a torn labrum suffered in the third period of a 6-3 loss to the Windsor Spitfires on Nov. 27 limited him to just 26 games this season, forcing scouts to rely on year-old projections.
At the time of the injury, Peterborough coach Mike Pelino told reporters, "Slater may be the most impressive defenseman I've seen in the [Ontario Hockey League] this year. If he's out for one day, we'll miss him, let alone if he's out for an extended period."
Koekkoek logged a ton of minutes and has a knack for playing in any part of the ice, capable of transitioning with a quick pass.
"Because of the kind of game he plays by carrying the puck, as you gain confidence and are in that league as a second-year player, it would have been great to see how high he would have gone up [the rankings] because the skill level is there," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He's a legitimate first-round guy, but it was up to him how high he would be drafted. He lost that opportunity [with the injury]."
Still, the 6-foot-2, 184-pound Koekkoek, ranked No. 23 on NHL Central Scouting's list of North American skaters, has certainly generated plenty of interest at the 2012 Scouting Combine this week. He was interviewed by 25 teams and is gearing up for his fitness test beginning 8:30 a.m. ET on Friday at Toronto International Centre.
"I think that I worked hard and went through rehab in the gym to get ready for the Combine as best I could," Koekkoek told NHL.com. "But I take learning experiences from it. You'll go through some ups and downs and it's how you deal with it.
"I am back to 100 percent … I got 100 percent from my doctor that did the surgery and my trainer and I'll be doing all the workouts [at the Combine] which is something I'm excited about," he continued. "I just want to show teams that I'm back to 100 percent and that the injury is out of the way now."
Koekkoek represented Team Canada as a member of the Ontario squad at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, notching three points in seven games en route to a gold medal. He also donned the Canadian sweater at the U18 World Championship, producing two points in seven games.
Prior to his injury in November, Koekkoek had five goals and 18 points in 26 matches.
"Maybe he'll fly under the radar a little bit," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He's steady and eats up tough minutes against other team's top lines. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes and is smart in his own end. He knows when to get the puck out. The only time he gets himself in trouble is when he's trying to lug the puck up ice. He needs to keep it simple and make that good first pass. But he's so reliable, he kills penalties and likes to crash."
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