Ken Holland continues to be active this offseason. On Thursday (August 12), the Edmonton Oilers general manager signed defenceman Slater Koekkoek to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $925,000.
While 2021-22 will be the 27-year-old’s second season with the Oilers, he is still something of an unknown in Edmonton. A broken collarbone limited Koekkoek to only 18 games last season, along with four appearances in the 2021 playoffs.
In fact, since he first signed with Edmonton on Dec. 26, 2020, Koekkoek has only played his games as an Oiler in empty arenas. Fans will start getting to know him a lot better when the season opens, but until then, here are five things to know about the 6-foot-2 blueliner from Ontario.
He Was Saddled With High Expectations
The crowd at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center was stunned on June 22, 2012, when Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman used the 10th overall pick in the NHL Draft to select Koekkoek from the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League.
To say that Yzerman was going way off the board would be an understatement: Koekkoek, who had played just 26 games for the Petes in 2011-12 after suffering a torn labrum, was the No. 23 ranked North American skater. Among those still available at that point were the top two European skaters, Filip Forsberg and Teuvo Teravainen.
The Tampa Bay Times called it an “odd pick,” noting that “Yzerman and director of amateur scouting Al Murray said they would pick the best available player, regardless of position. If that held true, perhaps they see something the scouts at NHL Central Scouting missed.” (From ‘Tampa Bay Lightning, in a shocker, selects D Slater Koekkoek with No. 10 pick of 2012 draft’, The Tampa Bay Times, 06/22/12)
Koekkoek has never come close to living up to the status of a top-10 pick. He didn’t make his NHL debut with the Lightning until late in 2014-15 and never played more than 35 games in a season for Tampa Bay before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks midway through 2018-19. All told, he has suited up for just 167 career NHL regular-season games, second-fewest among the first 23 picks of 2012.
He Has a Gold Medal Collection
Before he turned 18, Koekkoek already had a medal haul most Olympians would envy. His first major gold medal win came at the 2010 Telus Cup, where he was named MVP and Top Defenseman while leading the Notre Dame Hounds to the Canadian midget AAA championship.
In 2011, Koekkoek started the year by helping Team Ontario capture gold at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and then in the summer was a member of the Canadian U18 national team that brought home gold from the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic.
Koekkoek came close to adding another medal to his collection from the 2011 World U18 Championship, but Canada’s bid for gold was ended with an overtime loss to the United States in the semi-final round.
He’s an Experienced Leader
Just weeks after being drafted by the Lightning, Koekkoek was named captain of the Petes on Sept. 5, 2012. He held that role until being traded from Peterborough to the Windsor Spitfires in January 2013. He served as an alternate captain for the Spitfires and became Windsor’s captain on Jan. 10, 2014. (From ‘OHL notes: Koekkoek named captain,’ The Windsor Star, 1/10/14)
Later, while playing in the American Hockey League for the Syracuse Crunch, he was an alternate captain with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in 2016-17 and was wearing the ‘A’ as the Crunch advanced to the 2017 Calder Cup Finals. He also was an alternate captain during his time with Canada’s U18 team in 2011.
He’s Taken it One Year at a Time
Koekkoek’s new deal is the first multi-year agreement he’s reached since his entry-level contract, which was a three-year deal worth $4.425 million signed in March 2013.
He then signed four consecutive one-year contracts: with Tampa Bay for $800,000 in 2017 and again in 2018 for $865,000; with Chicago for $925,000 in 2019; and finally, with Edmonton for $850,000 in 2020. The two-year agreement with Edmonton is worth a total of $1.85 million.
“I’m happy to get the deal done for two more seasons,” Koekkoek said on the NHL website. “Since my [entry-level contract], it’s my first multi-year deal, so that feels great. I leaned on my family and loved ones for support throughout the season, and I’ll be looking forward to getting back on the ice and starting up training camp.”
He Has a Good Sense of Humour
If you’re not quite sure, the correct way to say Koekkoek’s last name, as stated in the Blackhawks 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Media Guide, is “Koo-Koo.”
Koekkoek’s doubtlessly heard his surname mispronounced any number of ways, but it doesn’t upset him. He even got a laugh at becoming a social media sensation not long after he was traded to Chicago.
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“I don’t have Twitter, but my sister sent me some funny things that people said … about my last name,” Koekkoek said at the time. “There was a funny one that said, ‘Imagine waking up one day and naming your kid Slater … last name ‘Koekkoek.’ I thought that was pretty funny.” (From ‘Slater Koekkoek has a distinctive name. More plays like he had Thursday will grab Blackhawks fans’ attention even more’ The Chicago Tribune, 2/15/19)
With a personality like that, Koekkoek is a hard guy for fans to dislike. His contract, however, is something else altogether. Oil Country is not lacking for critics of the terms of the deal, and the only way Koekkoek wins over those observers is with his play on the ice.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.