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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Bolts’ Koekkoek ready to get back on the ice

— Forgive Slater Koekkoek for any feelings of frustration he might hold.

After all, what Koekkoek has endured the past three summers might be enough to make one crazy.

The 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Koekkoek will enter his first pro season this fall, but for the third consecutive summer, the 20-year-old is recovering from shoulder surgery.

In his draft year, he missed all but 26 games after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Then, midway through the 2012-13 season, two games after he was traded from Peterborough to Windsor, Koekkoek was shut down for the remainder of the season to have a second procedure on the left shoulder to help correct the initial surgery.

Then in early March, Koekkoek was engaged in a fight when he suffered a dislocated right shoulder that caused enough damage that his third shoulder surgery in as many years was required.

“It’s hard,’’ Koekkoek said. “I’ve gotten the same questions for how long now? But maybe now that I have them fixed up, I’ll be good for the next 20 years or something. It’s something that I had to deal with, and it wasn’t my fault or anything, just a bad break and I’m going to move forward.’’

Moving forward is exactly what Koekkoek did last season.

At the time of his most recent injury, Koekkoek was regarded as one of the top defensemen — if not the best — in the Ontario Hockey League. He was averaging just under 35 minutes of ice time and was third in scoring among defensemen with 15 goals and 53 points in 62 games, and his plus-44 rating was fifth in the league.

“He made strides last year,’’ Lightning director of player personnel Stacy Roest said. “His game has evolved, and he’s figured out not to try to be so offensive, and his defending has gotten better. What can you do? He had injuries, you rehab from injuries, and he’s become a much stronger person because of it.’’

Despite all the time missed in his final three junior seasons, Koekkoek’s track toward the NHL does not seem to have been derailed by the injuries.

Last season, Roest said Koekkoek played so many minutes that “it was like he played 100 games’’ for Windsor instead of the 62 he appeared in.

“Obviously, I would’ve liked to have played in the playoffs this year, but it wasn’t possible. But I think that I’m right where I need to be in terms of development,’’ Koekkoek said. “And if I have to start the season in Syracuse this year, I will just continue to develop there, but I think it was a big step this past year in Windsor.’’

During the Lightning’s summer development camp, Koekkoek is being held out of contact drills, but that didn’t stop the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from getting in a hit into the boards on his first day of drills. He was issued a gentle reminder by the coaching and medical staff to stay away from those hits until rookie camp in September.

“My first practice, I get in trouble so ...’’ Koekkoek said. “It’s just not fully cleared on contact yet, so they are just being cautious and making sure I don’t hurt it. Not that this camp isn’t important, it’s just that main camp is obviously the goal.’’

That’s when Koekkoek will be sized up and the expectations of being a top-10 pick will start.

“He’s doing great,’’ Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “But we just want to be cautious with him. There is a time frame with these injures. But he’s going to be fine, we just have to hold him back. ... He’s got talent, he’s got ability, you just have to have the heart to overcome this stuff and keep working and working. If you play long enough, everybody is going to get hurt, and you just have to learn to overcome that and play.

“You just have to be patient. Obviously, not playing a lot is going to slow his development a little bit, but he’ll catch up.’’

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