Slater Koekkoek was a highly-touted prospect once upon a time after getting drafted No. 10 overall in 2012 by Tampa Bay. He was supposed to be part of their long-term plans on the blue line.
For whatever reason, Koekkoek struggled to break through and unlock his full potential. Injuries certainly haven't helped. He's had a few shoulder surgeries that have gotten in the way of his development as a young player. But he didn't mention that or use it as an excuse.
Koekkoek wanted to make it work in Tampa Bay. He reportedly never requested a trade, even though he continued to slip down the depth chart. It didn't help his cause that the Lightning have won 17 of their past 19 games, so there hasn't been a reason to tweak with a winning formula.
But after getting traded to Chicago on Friday, Koekkoek is excited about a fresh start and proving himself on a new team.
"I felt good," Koekkoek said. "I hadn't got in a game in a while in Tampa, so I went down on conditioning to Syracuse and got some games in. I'm thankful for that. I got some of the rust off and it got me ready for this opportunity.
"Everybody gets frustrated when they're not playing. Luckily for me, I have a strong support system. I try and take every day with a positive mindset, so in that way I'm lucky, but it was definitely weighing on me hard."
Where he fits into the Blackhawks lineup will be determined. They're currently at eight defensemen, something they've been reluctant to do in the past. Gustav Forsling is on injured reserve with an upper-torso injury, and the expectation is he won't be out long-term which adds to the complication.
While Koekkoek won't make his debut on Saturday against the Vegas Golden Knights despite participating in morning skate, it appears the Blackhawks will give him a shot at some point.
"I've watched him a couple games now and [he's] very mobile," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Skates excellently, loves to jump in the play. He's got a good gap, lots of that has to do with his skating. He's a big body, I would say not overly physical but [Carl] Dahlstrom's not overly physical either and he gets in the way and defends well. I think he can compete for a role. So we'll see how that plays out. We can watch all the tape you want but when you get him here that's when we're going to really evaluate him."
Does Koekkoek see a path for himself?
"In my head, I have some ideas," he admitted. "But ultimately it's up to the coach and what he thinks. I'm just here to work hard until I get my opportunity and then do what I can out there."
Koekkek is set to become a restricted free agent this summer for the second straight year. He's a left-handed shot, which helps his case in Chicago because they have a surplus of right-handed shot defensemen on the roster and in the organization.
At 24 years old, there's still room for Koekkoek to grow into the player he wants to become - or at least to the point where he can become an everyday player. And that's all he's focused on now.
"Every day I come to the rink and work hard," Koekkoek said when asked why he hasn't been able to reach his potential yet. "Whether it be opportunity or when I got in I didn't showcase myself as well as I could've, I don't know. It's a tough thing. I'm thankful to Tampa for everything they gave me, all the opportunities, but I'm looking forward to this here."