Peterborough Petes defenseman Slater Koekkoek didn't have to go far for advice in the midst of the most taxing season of his hockey career.
While the thought of sitting out the final 40 regular-season games with a shoulder injury in your draft year isn't the most ideal situation, Koekkoek took solace in the fact teammate Matt Puempel was in a similar predicament one season ago.
Puempel, a left wing, was lost 11 days before the start of the OHL playoffs in 2010-11 after undergoing hip surgery. Despite the setback, he was chosen 24th in the 2011 draft by the Ottawa Senators.
"I did talk to Matt and asked him how he dealt with it," Koekkoek told NHL.com. "He said not to worry. He was hurt at the end of the season where I missed half the regular season. He said, 'Slater, don't worry. Everything will be fine in the end. It'll be OK.'"
Puempel advised Koekkoek to not think too far ahead.
"I just told Slater that the teams are going to do their job and make sure the injury is healing properly, if not already healed," Puempel told NHL.com. "Although everyone says it doesn't matter where you're picked, every kid wants to go as early as possible."
Entering the 2011-12 season, Koekkoek was said to possess as much raw skill and ability as any other 2012 NHL Draft-eligible defenseman. Scouts were looking forward to charting the progress of the 6-foot-2, 184-pound blueliner, who had seven goals, 23 points and 67 penalty minutes in 65 games as a rookie in the Ontario Hockey League in 2010-11.
To many scouts, Koekkoek's playing card was rendered incomplete, however. A left shoulder injury suffered in the third period of a 6-3 loss to the Windsor Spitfires on Nov. 27 limited him to just 26 games in 2011-12 and forced scouts to rely on year-old projections.
"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 go. He lost that opportunity [with the injury]."
Koekkoek did enough to earn the No. 23 spot in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for this year's draft.
Koekkoek had shoulder surgery in January and began rehabilitation the following month. He was interviewed by 25 teams at the NHL Scouting Combine, and participated in all the fitness tests. He even finished among the top 10 in a few categories, among them peak power output on the Wingate Cycle Ergometer -- which measures explosive skating ability -- and the bench press.
"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."
A healthy Koekkoek logs a ton of minutes and has a knack for playing in any part of the ice. He's capable of creating transition opportunities with a smart, quick pass.
"Slater is a really good guy and really good D-man," Puempel said. "Any team that picks him will be happy and will have a great person in their organization."
Koekkoek represented Team Ontario at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, notching three points in seven games en route to a gold medal. He also played for Canada at the 2011 World Under-18 Championship, totaling two points in seven games.
"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."
Koekkoek said he's looking forward to getting to Pittsburgh for the draft.
"We'll be headed to Pittsburgh and hopefully won't be sitting there [waiting] too long," he said.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer