Koekkoek ea­ger to make hay in new sur­round­ings

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - SPORTS - BY JA­SON LIESER, STAFF RE­PORTER [email protected]­times.com | @Ja­sonLieser

Slater Koekkoek is the Black­hawks’ new­est recla­ma­tion pro­ject, and both sides hope a fresh start will make the dif­fer­ence for the No. 10 over­all pick of the 2012 draft.

Koekkoek couldn’t crack the Light­ning’s de­fen­sive lines and was on a con­di­tion­ing as­sign­ment with the team’s Syra­cuse af­fil­i­ate when the Hawks traded for him Fri­day. They un­loaded Jan Rutta and the re­main­der of his $2.3 mil­lion con­tract, plus they swapped their up­com­ing sev­enth-round pick for the Light­ning’s spot in the fifth.

“He had trou­ble break­ing through there, but he has a lot of at­tributes that can help him be a con­trib­u­tor at our level,” coach Jeremy Col­li­ton said. “Ex­cel­lent skater, big body. Still young. Still time to de­velop, so he’ll have a chance to prove him­self.”

The trade puts the Hawks at eight de­fense­men, and it’s hard to find play­ing time for that many. They also have Gus­tav Forsling on in­jured re­serve with an up­per­torso in­jury, and he’s el­i­gi­ble to re­turn any­time.

Koekkoek was not in the lineup Sat­ur­day against the Golden Knights af­ter ar­riv­ing in Chicago late Fri­day. He could de­but Mon­day at New Jersey.

When he gets on the ice, he’s ey­ing the chance to save his ca­reer. He has yet to es­tab­lish him­self and has ap­peared in 85 games in his five-year ca­reer. He hasn’t played in an NHL game since Nov. 19.

“I try and take ev­ery day with a pos­i­tive mind­set ... but it was def­i­nitely weigh­ing on me hard,” he said. “I’m just ex­cited for new scenery, and es­pe­cially a fran­chise like this. I couldn’t ask for a bet­ter place.”

Koekkoek, 24, ex­pected to be fur­ther along by this point and doesn’t have a good an­swer for why he isn’t.

He was healthy at the time of the trade and was on the con­di­tion­ing as­sign­ment sim­ply to get some game ac­tion. He played a ca­reer­high 35 games for the Light­ning last sea­son and av­er­aged 11:14 of ice time. This year, he has been in nine games and scored one goal.

“Ev­ery day I come to the rink and work hard,” Koekkoek said. “Whether it be op­por­tu­nity or when I got in I didn’t show­case my­self as well as I could’ve, I don’t know. It’s a tough thing. I’m thank­ful to Tampa for ev­ery­thing they gave me, all the op­por­tu­ni­ties, but I’m look­ing for­ward to this here.”

Col­lab­o­ra­tion un­der Col­li­ton

The move from Joel Quen­neville to Col­li­ton brought a lot of change to the Hawks. That tran­si­tion is play­ing out on the ice and be­hind the scenes.

Con­sider this: Quen­neville is 60 and has coached more than two decades, while Col­li­ton is a first-time NHL coach and the youngest in the league (he turns 34 on Sun­day). It’s no sur­prise that Col­li­ton fa­vors a more col­lab­o­ra­tive arrangement.

“Joel def­i­nitely had that vet­eran pres­ence and that per­sona of lay­ing the law of what is ex­pected,” de­fense­man Con­nor Mur­phy said. “And maybe now with a bit of a younger staff, it’s more about work­ing through things to­gether and hav­ing an open mind on new de­vel­op­ments to the game and in­tro­duc­ing new things into rou­tines and play­ers.”

Seabrook, Keith re­turn

Hawks de­fense­men Brent Seabrook and Dun­can Keith have been out sick this week, but both were in the lineup against the Golden Knights.

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De­fense­man Slater Koekkoek had been more or less in limbo with the Light­ning. The uncer­tainty “was def­i­nitely weigh­ing on me hard,” said Koekkoek, 24.

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