Slater Koekkoek missed more than half of the season due to shoulder damage (OHL Images)TORONTO — There must be 50 ways to love your labrum — or 50 ways for potential NHL first-rounder Slater Koekkoek to answer questions about it.
The Peterborough Petes defenceman is one of the poster boys for the quote, unquote injury draft. He had a lot of deserved hype last year as the OHL's possible best NHL draft prospect on the blueline before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder. The injury limited him to 26 games before he decided he needed surgery. He spent the last few months rebuilding strength in the ligament at Carleton University in Ottawa before taking part in the whole NHL Scouting Combine.
"All 26 teams I talked to asked how my shoulder is — how much of the testing I was doing," Koekkoek said. That was a big thing, to do everything. Bench presses, push-ups, those were a big thing. I met with a quite a few doctors of teams and they examined it and said it was good.
"They're just looking for work ethic, how much you put into this, For me, I think it was how my shoulder is and how much I can do right now.
Before his injury, Koekkoek was clocking 30-minute nights for the Petes. His strong two-way, smooth-skating style that is accentuated by a 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame boosted Peterborough into the middle of the pack in their conference. Once he was lost, so was the season. Peterborough later dealt captain Austin Watson to the eventual league champion London Knights and missed the playoffs.
On potential alone, Koekkoek is on the shortlist of the best defencemen in a draft that is deeper on the back end than up front. The independent scouting service Hockey Prospect has him as a top-15 pick in the NHL draft on June 22, but NHL Central Scouting put him 23rd among North American skaters. Koekkoek might have been out of sight and consequentially out of mind to media and fans and perhaps a few teams. At the very least, he's got dealing with a major injury out of the way.
Conversely, other highly touted OHL defenders got some attention for playing into May. London's Olli Määttä went all the way to the MasterCard Memorial Cup final and Ottawa's Cody Ceci reached the third round. The Western Hockey League final also featured two likely first-round defenders, Edmonton's Griffin Reinhart and Portland's Derrick Pouliot.
Koekkoek noted he will have to make up for lost time.
"It's pretty much just maturity that I have to deal with," he said. "I learned a lot from the game while I was away from it," Koekkoek said. "I'm sure I can be the same player when I get back that I was when I left."
Almost got back for U18
Koekkoek's great leap forward was in spring 2011, when he competed for Canada at the IIHF under-18 championship even though he was a year younger that most of his competition. He was ruled out of this spring's U18 world tourney in April since the shoulder was not fully healed enough to risk re-injury.
"I was nearly ready to go for the U18 but then the doctor said, 'two more weeks,' " Koekkoek said. "It was a kick in the pants."
The big defender noted that the upside of an upper-body injury is that his conditioning didn't suffer. He held up well through the dreaded Wingate and VO2 Max tests.
"After the Wingate you get a bit dizzy, but that's it," he said when asked if he came close to having his breakfast come up and take a bow.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.