RALEIGH, N.C. — As proud as Harvard coach Ted Donato is of Alex Killorn finally realizing his NHL dream with the Lightning, he also makes sure to still give the former Crimson captain plenty of grief.
Donato ribbed Killorn, 23, for not shooting on a two-on-one and teased the rookie wing for his fortuitous goal against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, when his bouncing shot trickled past goalie Ben Scrivens.
"We called it a muffin," Donato quipped. "At least he scored it against that Cornell guy in Scrivens."
Donato said his team has caught "Lightning fever," watching every highlight in Killorn's whirlwind first two weeks in the league from their Cambridge, Mass., campus.
Said Donato: "I think our guys hold him up as a gold standard."
Killorn has racked up three points (two goals) in his first six games and says he's getting more comfortable and confident with each day. At 6 feet 1, 197 pounds, Killorn has size, but he can also skate well and has a strong shot.
Just as important, the Halifax, Nova Scotia, native is responsible and well-positioned defensively, earning more than 12 minutes of ice time in four of his games.
"He's an extremely smart individual," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "Everything we've talked about, he learns it right now. I haven't told him the same thing twice yet.
"This league is so difficult. If it takes you too much time to learn, you miss your opportunity and the train passes by. But in this case, the first time it was coming, he was right in front, and he's been like that every game."
Killorn, a third-round draft pick in 2007, said he may not have been as ready if he had played in juniors as opposed to four years of college hockey. He grew physically and mentally in becoming the Crimson captain and an All-American, leading his team to the ECAC championship final last season.
"I think the extra few years of development, hockeywise and personally, was huge," Killorn said. "I didn't think going to play juniors for two years would have enabled me to become a good player."
Donato said Killorn arrived at Harvard with a lot of talent as a scorer but transformed into a "complete player" because of a tireless work ethic. The maturation process turned him into a leader who could kill penalties, defend opponent's top lines and be on the ice late in the game in any situation.
"Last year he was as good a player as there was in college hockey," said Donato, a Harvard grad who played in the NHL from 1991-2004. "It was pretty obvious he wanted to be a hockey player at the NHL level and was willing to put the effort in."
After graduating with a degree in government-politics, Killorn joined the Lightning on a tryout contract and helped the club's AHL affiliate, Norfolk, win last season's championship before signing a two-year deal.
Though Killorn didn't participate in training camp this year, he scored 16 goals in 44 games with the Lightning's new AHL affiliate, Syracuse, before getting an unexpected callup this month, nearly six years removed from his draft day.
"He was one of those guys that had to battle through and get his smarts, his reliability, his resiliency to come out on top," Boucher said. "He chose the longer rout. But he chose the right one because right now he's here."
Lightning at Hurricanes
When/where: 7; PNC Arena, Raleigh, N.C.
TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM
Key stats: Though the Lightning and Carolina each has 17 points, Carolina leads the Southeast Division because it has played one fewer game. … Hurricanes C Eric Staal is tied for the league lead with four winning goals and entering Friday was tied for second in plus-minus at plus-13. … Lightning W Cory Conacher leads all rookies with 15 points. … The Hurricanes were 26th in penalty kill (74.6 percent). … The Lightning beat Carolina 4-1 in Tampa in the teams' first meeting Jan. 22. … Carolina D Joni Pitkanen (lower body) could return tonight.