TAMPA — Alex Killorn has the big contract now, a seven-year, $31.15 million commitment from the Lightning that he signed during the summer and is actually a two-way street.
In one direction is the relaxation of knowing his future is secure.
In the other is the pressure of living up to that deal added to the weighty challenge of helping a talented team return to the Stanley Cup final.
"I'd rather have a guy who's signed and comfortable," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
One less thing to stress about.
"Whenever you sign a long-term deal, in a way it helps you relax, but in a way, you want to prove to the team that they made the right decision," Killorn said. "When they invest so much in you, you want to be able to show (something) for it. When you can score goals, when you can help the team win, it's huge."
If the season's early returns are any indication, the Lightning's second-line wing is doing just fine.
He has a team-high four goals in the Lightning's first five games, including a key one in Saturday's 4-1 win against the Senators, and he is tied for the team lead with five points. Killorn's play has been a continuation of his play during last spring's playoffs, when he was a major contributor in Tampa Bay's run to the Eastern Conference final. He followed a 14-goal, 40-point regular season with a five-goal, 18-point postseason.
Cooper called Killorn's playoff play "unreal." "He was exceptional then, and he's being rewarded for his effort," Cooper said.
Killorn had three goals in the first four games this season. It took him 20 games to score three goals last season. But that was before he centered a line with Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. The trio became a unit toward the end of last season. Johnson said they had chemistry almost immediately.
"It just kind of felt natural," Johnson said.
Killorn, 6 feet 1 and 196 pounds, is the one true power forward on the team.
" 'Killer' is a big body," Johnson said. "He's one of those guys, when he gets the puck, he just controls it.
"He has that body. He has that strength. He has that ability to fend off guys. It's nice with him because when he has the puck, you know you have that extra second to get open, try to get to a spot where you need to be, because he can find you. He has the skill to do so, as well."
After scoring a goal in each of the first three games, Killorn joked that he was on pace for an 82-goal season.
"I think it's just a good start," he said. "You hope as you get more mature in this league, you get to know the league a little more and you become a better player. You develop. I'm hoping that happens with me. A couple of playoff series, four seasons now under my belt. … I hope this will be one of my better seasons."
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos sees Killorn's start to this season as the natural progression of a talented player. That Killorn is surrounded by talented teammates helps draw out his abilities. That he has excelled in the pressure cooker that is the postseason helps the learning curve.
"He's been due to have a good season," Stamkos said. "When you get on a roll like he is right now, you feel good about your game and things are going your way, and you just try to ride that wave. He's a guy who's showed up in big moments for us over the course of the last two playoffs. In order for us to play well, he has to be a big part of that."