Koekkoek for Rutta – What Did the Blackhawks Get?

After firing former head coach Joel Quenneville on Nov. 6, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has spent the past few weeks changing the look of his roster and trying to correct a couple of his most-recent offseason mistakes.

Bowman Tries to Change Fate by Changing Roster

The first big move Bowman made after firing Quenneville was trading Nick Schmaltz, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, to the Arizona Coyotes for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini. The trade has worked out well for the Blackhawks as Strome has seven goals and 14 points in 22 games. Schmaltz had been playing well, too, with 14 points in 17 games, but his season ended due to a recent injury.

After Bowman avoided a tough contract decision that may have come back to haunt him down the road, he set out to erase the two biggest mistakes he made last summer. The re-signing of Jan Rutta and the two-year deal handed out to Brandon Manning were criticized immediately. Many doubted the moves when they were made and the play of both players vindicated those feelings.

Manning did not fit into Quenneville’s system and could not earn a spot under Jeremy Colliton either. This led many pundits to believe that Manning and his contract could not be moved. Enter Peter Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers, who traded forward Drake Caggiula and Jason Garrison to the Blackhawks for Manning and Swedish defenseman Robin Norell.

Bowman’s next mission was to get Rutta off the books. He looked like he was going to be an effective defenseman early last season, but there was never any progression. As frustration grew, he was eventually sent down to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League last month.

On Friday afternoon, Bowman found a taker as he traded Rutta and a 2019 seventh-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Slater Koekkoek and a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Who is Slater Koekkoek?

Koekkoek (pronounced Koo Koo) definitely has talent, but it has never translated to the NHL level. The 24-year-old, left-shot defenseman was drafted 10th overall by Steve Yzerman and the Lightning at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.  He had a very successful junior career with 33 goals and 123 points in 195 games split between the Peterborough Petes and Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.

Heading into the 2012 Draft, scouts were very high on Koekkoek. He was touted for his skating and ability to move the puck. Scouts were also high on his “hockey IQ” because he knew exactly when to jump into the rush and when to stay back. The term “home run” was used to describe him and one scout even said that he had the highest ceiling of all the defensemen in the draft that year. So, what went wrong?

Since being drafted, Koekkoek has played in 185 AHL games with the Syracuse Crunch with whom he had 12 goals, 55 points and a plus-two rating. He played in 85 games with the Lightning over the past five seasons, including a career-high 35 games last season. He has five goals, 14 points and a minus-one rating with a 48.6 Corsi For percentage (CF%). He averaged 14:20 of ice time in his nine NHL games this season.

Slater Koekkoek
Slater Koekkoek has a chance to prove he can play at the NHL level. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

The acquisition of Mikhail Sergachev in the summer of 2017 didn’t help Koekkoek as the newcomer quickly pushed him further down the depth chart. There was also plenty of conversation that he had never earned the trust of head coach Jon Cooper. Where have we heard that kind of story before?

The writing has been on the wall for quite some time that his time with the Lightning was coming to an end. He just could not find a permanent spot in a lineup that includes Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Sergachev, Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn. Koekkoek is a textbook example of a young player who could benefit from a change of scenery. Blackhawks fans have seen this scenario many times before with the acquisitions of players like Richard Panik, Anthony Duclair and Strome.

Given the current state of the Blackhawks defense, if Koekkoek can perform well, he will play. He is staying at the NHL level, at least for the time being, but will not play against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. It sure sounds like Colliton will give him a chance to stay in Chicago.

The best-case scenario is Koekkoek gets a legitimate shot to play in the NHL and takes full advantage of it. If that doesn’t happen, Bowman saved $1.4 million in cap space, swapped a seventh-round pick for a fifth and we have a fun name to say for the next three months.