TAMPA — For six years, Alex Killorn has approached but never surpassed 20 goals in a season. This just might be the season he does it.
The Lightning forward, in his eighth NHL season, is on pace for a career scoring year. He has 11 goals in 33 games. If he keeps scoring at this rate, Killorn will have 25 goals in 80 games (he already has missed two this year).
Some of what has Killorn on this pace is simple. He is taking more shots. (What’s that Wayne Gretzky said about the shots you don’t take?) And he is scoring on a higher percentage of his shots.
It’s even simpler to point out that six of Killorn’s goals have come on the power play, where he hasn’t typically played in the past. But there’s more to it than that.
Coach Jon Cooper has seen Killorn, 30, step into more of a leadership role. He has recognized it with awarding him the role of alternate captain for a few games recently.
“His leadership this year has been exceptional,” Cooper said. “He’s really taken a step to the forefront to be a little more vocal with our team. He’s carried that onto the ice. He’s just a more confident player.”
That’s not to say Killorn is giving impassioned speeches in the dressing room. But in meetings, he is speaking up more, where he might not have before. For example, the Lightning might be going over the penalty kill and Killorn will be the first to point out something that needs to be done.
“We need more guys to step up after losing some key guys in our locker room (from last season), and ‘Killer’ is one of those guys,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We have a lot of leaders on this team, but Killer’s been there a long time (he has spent his entire NHL career with the Lightning). He’s been very vocal, and he’s a very smart person and smart player.”
The Lightning doesn’t have a dearth of leaders, but they did lose some big voices in the offseason. Ryan Callahan can’t play anymore because of a back condition, Dan Girardi retired, and Anton Stralman left in free agency. Their absences have created space for new voices.
“(Killorn has) been a pretty consistent player, point wise, throughout his career,” Cooper said. “But he seems to have elevated his game this year, and I think a lot of it is the leadership role he’s taken.”
The elevated game, increased confidence and larger leadership role contribute to why Killorn is playing on the top power-play unit. Killorn provides a strong net-front presence. He can battle with a defenseman to screen the goalie, open a shooting lane or get on a rebound.
The Lightning went through a few looks to round out their top unit before settling on Killorn.
“He’s got a great stick, so he can make those plays, and he helps us get in the zone,” Cooper said. “Big body, same attributes he brings to the (penalty kill) he brings to the power play for us.”
Killorn hasn’t changed who he is as a player, but he’s a little sharper. There’s a difference when a player goes into games expecting to produce offense.
That’s where the increase in shots — especially in quality of shots — comes from. Killorn is on pace for a career high in shots at an average 2.2 per game. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but no other Lightning player besides Steven Stamkos averages more than three.
Notably, Killorn’s shooting percentage is also up, at 15.3 percent, second on the Lightning to Brayden Point’s 20. So he’s shooting more and shooting well.
“I think there’s some growth offensively,” assistant coach Derek Lalonde said. “When we finish a game, (Killorn is) leading us in plus/minus differential, he’s leading us in puck possession. There are some things he’s doing well, and he’s honest with. And (the puck is) going in the back of the net.”