Tampa Bay Lightning
Killorn a bright spot during Lightning's lost season
As another disappointing NHL season winds down, the Lightning are looking for encouraging signs.
Alex Killorn comes quickly to mind.
When new Lightning coach Jon Cooper talks about his 23-year-old rookie forward, he can't help but smile.
The playoff chase appears to be a lost cause with only five games remaining, as Tampa Bay lurches into Montreal for tonight's matchup, but Killorn is giving management, coaches and teammates reason to believe in a brighter future.
“It's all up to Alex now,” Cooper said. “He's a can't-miss in my eyes.”
Despite playing only 33 games, Killorn is tied for ninth among NHL rookies with 18 points. The former Ivy Leaguer averages 21 shifts and 17:05 of ice time, displaying his versatility in a variety of roles.
“Alex is one of those guys who does it all,” said Tyler Johnson, who played with Killorn at Syracuse last season and was re-assigned from the Lightning back to the minors last week. “He's got a big body, he likes to use it and he's good in the corners.”
Killorn has put his Harvard education to good use, analyzing on-ice situations and making rapid adjustments.
That doesn't mean he's immune to rookie mistakes, however.
In last week's 6-3 home loss to Pittsburgh, Killorn's turnover in the neutral zone led to a back-breaking goal by the Penguins.
After the game, Lightning veteran Marty St. Louis spent a few minutes in the locker room with Killorn, going over the play in detail.
Having won only 11 of 28 draws, faceoffs are one facet of the game Killorn will work on extensively this summer in Montreal, where he lives 10 minutes away from teammate Vinny Lecavalier.
“I want to be a dependable two-way player and chip in offensively,” Killorn said. “There's a huge jump in skill at the NHL level. You need patience up here. For example, on the penalty kill in the AHL, you go after a guy aggressively because you don't think he can make a play. Here, you've got to be more wary. They will burn you if you get too eager.”
Two of Killorn's seven goals have been game-winners, and he skates fluidly for his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame.
He started out playing on a third line with Nate Thompson and Tom Pyatt, but he has also skated extensively on Tampa Bay's top scoring lines.
“You look to see how long it takes for young players to process the game,” said Cooper, who coached Killorn in Syracuse. “Alex came in last year when we were on this unbelievable winning streak and fit right in. The game slowed down for him after a few weeks and you knew he was going to be a ballplayer.”
Killorn was recalled from Syracuse on Feb. 9, six weeks before Cooper replaced Guy Boucher behind the Lightning bench.
“Jon Cooper was the first man to coach me as a pro,” Killorn said, “and last year he gave me a lot of confidence. He's a great communicator and he realizes some guys play better if they're pushed. He was hard on me when I first got to Syracuse.
“Every now and then, he'll pull me aside and say, 'Alex, you can't do that in the NHL.'”
When Cooper was hired in Tampa, some Lightning veterans flocked to Killorn for a scouting report on the new boss. Killorn told them they wouldn't have a problem with Cooper if they played hard and carried out their assignments.
For Johnson, those traits describe Killorn perfectly.
“He was my roommate in Syracuse and we got along well,” Johnson said. “He's a good cook, but he doesn't like cleaning up the mess. He prides himself on his steaks … that's his specialty. Going to Harvard, Alex is obviously a very smart guy — and he lets you know it every once in a while. But he's a great teammate who will always have your back.”
Killorn is smart enough to realize not every third-round pick (2007) gets this kind of opportunity to shine at the NHL level.
“It's been exciting, that's for sure,” he said. “If you told me a year ago that I'd get this kind of a chance with the Lightning, it would have been a surprise. From the travel to the food, everything in the NHL is first-class. It makes you want to stay here.”