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FEATURE: Koekkoek settling in nicely with Blackhawks

The Blackhawks acquired the defenseman from Tampa Bay in January and the organization has been impressed with his play

by Chris Wescott / blackhawks.com

Jeremy Colliton didn't hesitate or have to gather his thoughts when asked about his newest defender. He was ready to talk about him.

"Yeah, he's been a really nice surprise for us," he said.

The Blackhawks head coach has enjoyed having Slater Koekkoek on the roster since he arrived from Tampa via trade back on Jan. 11. Chicago parted with Jan Rutta and a seventh-round pick and received the 24-year-old blueliner and a fifth.

Video: Slater Koekkoek on adjusting to Chicago

The acquisition of Koekkoek has flown under the radar with the current trade talk of the town centering around Dylan Strome's production. Since being acquired from Arizona on Nov. 25, Strome has compiled 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in 34 games.

Koekkoek's contributions may not show up on the stat sheet as loudly as Strome's, but the 10th-overall pick in 2012 has made an impression of his own.

"Obviously, we knew he had some potential, was a high draft pick and kind of got blocked in Tampa Bay because they have a pretty nice roster but I think he continues to improve," said Colliton. "He's a great skater, but he's closing on people defensively and he's also not afraid to be physical and battle and get us out of d-zone."

Koekkoek recorded his first point as a Blackhawk with an assist on Jonathan Toews' goal in the 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night. It's a perfect example of what Koekkoek can bring on the ice.

Video: NJD@CHI: Toews buries one-timer from the circle

"He closed maybe three times on the puck carrier in the d-zone and found a way to create a turnover and we capitalized in transition," explained Colliton. "That's what we're looking for out of our defensemen."

Koekkoek has played just seven games in a Chicago uniform, but when he has been on the ice at even strength Chicago is controlling 53.6% of the shot attempts. That's the best number of any Blackhawks defenseman currently on the roster.

He appears to be fitting in just fine.

"I love it here," he said. "I think the guys have been good welcoming me. And we've been on a good run here. I thought we've been playing some good hockey so that's exciting and we're looking forward to this last stretch. We need all the points we can get."

Since that trade on Jan. 11, Chicago is 8-3-1. Stepping into a winning atmosphere and a happy locker room makes it easier to assimilate.

 

"It sure does," said Koekkoek. "Everybody's positive. We're watching video every day and it's constructive. There are things we can do better, but since we get the two points it makes things much sweeter."

Koekkoek doesn't know if he's playing any better than he did in Tampa, but he's getting an opportunity to step onto the ice. That's half the battle.

"I hadn't played for a long time there when I first got traded here so other than just getting the rust off the first few games I've settled in nicely," he said.

Making the transition easier on Koekkoek has been the veteran core of the Chicago roster, including his old friend and Lightning teammate Chris Kunitz.

"I had Kunitz in Tampa with me so I always thought he was a great leader," Koekkoek said. "When I got here, he's one of the veteran guys here so he's been great to me. But a lot of the guys have. It's felt good to come in and be welcomed like this."

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