Saturday, February 9, 2019

Slater Koekkoek Autograph Card

A couple of weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning essentially gave up on trying to find room for Slater Koekkoek int heir lineup, sending him to the Chicago Blackhawks for Jan Rutta. Koekkoek, on the verge of turning 25, had been a first-round draft pick (10th overall in 2012); Rutta is an undrafted 28-year-old Czech star who is proving to be too good for the AHL but who also failed to make the Hawks a decent defensive team.

Ultimately, Koekkoek's failing will have been that he was unable to knock off a veteran from a line-up that included Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn, which morphed into the star-studded current lineup of Norris winner Victor Hedman, All-Star Ryan McDonagh, Stralman, eventual Norris winner Mikhail Sergachev, Coburn and a dependable second-rounder from 2015, Erik Cernak.

Not that he wasn't good. It's just that every time he finally found a roster spot, GM Steve Yzerman (maybe accidentally) added one or two left-handed defensemen that slotted ahead of him, with the  latest instances being former New York Rangers captain McDonagh and former Montréal Canadiens first-rounder Sergachev (actually, both are technically former Habs first-rounders).

It's hard for a young player to fight for ice time on a championship-caliber team - which the Bolts have been for years now - especially a young defenseman. Tampa will likely continue to be the cream of the crop for a few years as well. The Hawks, on the other hand, have big decisions looming with another expansion draft coming and two defensemen (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook) with no-trade clauses they'll have to protect unless they can find a way of letting (at least one of) them go before the end of next season.

It may be of little comfort to a guy like Koekkoek who is about to enter his prime and might have had his development stalled a bit by remaining in the stands a tad too long in Florida, but an actual NHL roster spot will be available for him in 2020, in Chicago, Seattle or elsewhere.

Here he is wearing the Bolts' white (away) uniform, on card #152 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Trilogy collection and Rookie Premieres (Level 2) sub-set:
It's numbered #379/499 and features an on-sticker blue-sharpied signature. The scan made it blueish with green highlights, but to the naked eye, it's actually mostly silver with golden highlights.

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