If you've been following the SB Nation network-wide mock draft, you'd see that the Pittsburgh Penguins are now on the clock. Which means I have to decide what the Pens should do. Last year, I feverently rallied and made a case for the Pens to draft diminutive but skilled forward Rocco Grimaldi with their first round pick. They didn't, chosing defenseman Joe Morrow, and that worked out pretty well so far, with Morrow having a good season and showing flashes of being a stud defenseman.
This year, we're pleased to select defenseman Slater Koekkoek from the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League.
Here's a little profile on him:
A recap from TSN's mid-term report, where Koekkoek was ranked 15th:
Won a Gold Medal with Team Ontario at the U-17's last winter, then represented Canada at the U-18's as an underage defenceman a few months later. Koekkoek is sidelined for the rest of the year after having season-ending shoulder surgery. Strengths: Strong character traits and leadership qualities. A big, solid, steady mature player, solid work ethic. Can lug the puck out of trouble, tough to play against in his own zone, plays a spirited, physical style. Mature for his age. Weaknesses: Tries to do too much at times, not a point producer or play creator, hockey sense is average in offensive end, has some issues when he's under pressure. Has some work to do on his backwards skating. NHL upside: Has the intangibles to be a solid defensive defenceman in the pro game, a reliable fourth or fifth defenceman with leadership qualities and some grit.
Corey Pronman, from Hockey Prospectus, has Koekkoek ranked as the 23rd best prospect, saying:
Koekkoek is one of those prospects that I've heard widely differing reports from industry sources on. The top defense prospect whose season was significantly shortened by a shoulder injury will get praise from one scout as a safe, low-upside player and in the other corner I'll hear he's a high-upside boom/bust defenseman…gotta love this industry. From what I've seen, I tend to lean more towards the former. Koekkoek (which is an awesome name to say, may I add) is a pretty good skater with a good first step, smooth four-way movements, a technically sound stride, and quick, powerful feet. His puck skills are a tick above average, but he makes his offensive living with his puck-moving. He's a pretty smart passer who can flash some fine creativity in that area but overall is not that flashy. Koekkoek is very smart though, showing good awareness on the power play when it comes to his decisions, he makes good defensive reads, and plays a pretty mistake-free game. However, I have heard from several scouting sources who have described Koekkoek in the complete opposite manner, stating he will dominate one night, and have several brain cramps per shift the next. What is universally agreed on, though, is that he is a fine physical player who will rub opponents off the puck and do what he has to in that area.
And check out our friends from Hockey Wilderness' writeup, where they had Koekkoek as the 16th best prospect in the draft.
Our rationale: it is yet another defenseman to be drafted high by the Pens, but compared to the players still available at 22nd in this mock draft, we weren't too excited about taking a forward that projects to be a 3rd line NHL player. In our opinion, better to keep stocking up on defensemen who can skate well, move the puck well and have the potential to be top 4 NHL defensemen. Koekkoek seems a little riskier than your average prospect, but for who's left, he seemingly also has a higher potential ceiliing to be able to reach. Koekkoek missed a lot of time to shoulder injury this season, and that could be a bother for potential to re-occur or waste development time.
Will Ray Shero take heed of us this year? Probably not, but tune in next Friday when the draft will be held in Pittsburgh to see who the Pens add to the prospect pool.