After seeing his teammate turn pro, Cole Koepke has also decided to sign his entry-level contract. The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed the University of Minnesota-Duluth forward to a two-year entry-level deal that will start in the 2021-22 season. Koepke has signed a professional tryout agreement with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL for the remainder of 2020-21.
The 22-year-old Koepke was selected in the sixth round of the 2018 draft and has spent the last three seasons racking up goals and points in the NCAA. In 2019-20 he was nearly a point-per-game forward with 33 in 34, and though that rate dipped a bit this season he was still nominated for the Hobey Baker Award as one of the nation’s best players.
He was ranked eighth among Corey Pronman’s list of drafted NCAA prospects who could elect free agency after the season for The Athletic. Normally a player would have to wait four years from his draft year to reach unrestricted free agency, but since Koepke was passed over and wasn’t selected until he had already turned 20, he doesn’t have to wait as long. It doesn’t actually matter now, as Koepke has decided to sign with the team that drafted him and start his pro career with Tampa Bay.
In January, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic suggested that Koepke could potentially develop into a third-line NHL talent. The 6’1″ winger is a volume shooter who put up 15 goals even in this year’s shortened season and continues to drive the puck to dangerous areas. Whether he’ll be able to continue that at the professional level isn’t clear, but even earning an entry-level deal after being a sixth-round pick is a win.