Koekkoek happy to tell NHL scouts he’s healthy

 

It should came as no surprise that Slater Koekkoek has leaned on Ottawa Senators prospect Matt Puempel for some helpful advice during the past few weeks and months.

Puempel, who has played alongside Koekkoek with the Peterborough Petes for the last two seasons, has a pretty good idea of the anxiety Koekkoek is dealing with.

Puempel, coming off a season cut short due to a hip injury, was selected by the Senators in the 24th round of the 2011 NHL entry draft. Now here comes Koekkoek – a native of Mountain, south of Ottawa – aiming to be a first round selection at the 2012 draft in Pittsburgh on June 22, following a season where he played only 26 games due to suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder on Nov. 27. He had surgery in January.

“I’ve talked to (Puempel) quite a bit, he’s a pretty good friend,” Koekkek said during a telephone call Wednesday, enjoying a brief break from the interviews he had with 11 NHL teams at the league’s scouting combine in Toronto.

Koekkoek, a defenceman blessed with offensive skills, also interviewed with six teams on Tuesday and expects to meet with another “seven or eight” on Thursday. He will also go through a series of 13 physical tests on Friday, along with the other 100 teenagers perceived as the top prospects for the draft.

Koekkoek – pronounced Kook-Kook – was fully prepared for the questions about his health. He’s only too happy to report that he’s “100 per cent” and that he should have no problem completing the physical exams.

“They are normal questions, but it gets repetitive after awhile,” he acknowledges. “They have been pretty similar (from team to team) and lots of questions about my shoulder, obviously.”

Koekkoek scored five goals and 13 assists in his 26 games with Peterborough last season, following a 2010-11 rookie OHL season where he netted seven goals and 16 assists in 65 games.

Yet the uncertainty surrounding his health has resulted in a wide range of opinions about where he might be selected in the entry draft, similar to the situation for Puempel last June.

He was considered a potential Top 10 selection at the start of the season. The International Scouting Service rates him now rates him at number 18. TSN scout and former NHL general manager Craig Button ranks him Koekkoek 34th. The Hockey News lists him at number 23.

There have been suggestions that some teams selecting late in the first round might trade up in order to secure Koekkoek. If that happens, it will be also be similar to the case with Puempel, acquired after the Senators swapped two second round picks to the Detroit Red Wings in order to nab him in the first round.

Koekkoek is trying not to get lost in all the speculation.

“That’s the hard part, waiting for it to happen,” he says. “It’s the teams that are drafting. If a team likes you, they’re going to take you.”

Koekkek is confident and he believes that NHL teams will look beyond his injury-shortened 2011-12 season and also at his rookie season with Peterborough and his impressive midget season with the Notre Dame Hounds midget program in Saskatchewan, where he scored 16 goals and 27 assists in 44 games. He was selected seventh overall by Peterborough in the 2010 OHL draft.

“I’ve played for Canada at the (world) under 18-tournament and Peterborough last season. I’m the same player as then, but even better.”

If there’s one positive from his injury ordeal, Koekkoek says it comes from learning how to deal with a major injury early in his career.

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