In the wake of last season’s mediocre results, a few players drew the ire of fans: Jason Garrison, Andrej Sustr, J.T. Brown, and Alex Killorn. Killorn came under heavy scrutiny by many due to his recently signed contract (7 years, $31 million with an annual average value and cap hit of 4.45 million) and streaky production.
Killorn finished last season with 36 points (19 goals and 17 assists), which was only five points away from his career high of 41 points; additionally, he hit a career high in goals last season. Add in the comments teammate Nikita Kucherov made about certain players on the Lightning who “got their money and stopped working,” and it becomes quite easy to figure out to whom he was referring.
The offseason was a long one for both Lightning players and fans. It created a craving for what 2017-2018 could bring with a healthy Steven Stamkos and the addition of defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev. 20 games into the season and the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in the NHL thanks mainly to the efforts of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Buried in all of this good production is Alex Killorn’s year. Whether the comments got under his skin or he just felt he needed to play better we’ll never know, but so far Killorn has looked like the player Steve Yzerman expected him to be when he gave him that seven-year extension.
Through 20 games Killorn has 14 points (2 goals and 12 assists), and is locked on the hybrid line with Tyler Johnson. He also plays on both special team units. He’s always been more of a two-way forward compared to the other forwards on the roster (except Ondrej Palat), but last season’s struggles magnified how streaky a player Killorn is. He had multiple streaks of not scoring, and earned criticism for bolstering his point totals through an incredible hot streak at the start of the season. Additionally, his defensive contributions bore questioning, and many fans (including myself) were thinking of possible trade partners for the winger in the offseason.
What gets lost is the concept of “putting players into a position to succeed.” Last season’s injuries caused all kinds of havoc when it came to slotting players in the lineup, and some were inserted into positions they weren’t capable of or just weren’t ready for. In some cases, this worked wonderfully (see: Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov). In others, not so much (see: Andrej Sustr and Alex Killorn). Killorn isn’t a top-six winger, he is a bottom-six winger who can supplement a team’s top six when needed, but isn’t suited to that style of play. Unfortunately, coach Jon Cooper didn’t have much choice given the number of injuries the Lightning had last season. He had to make do with what he had.
It should be noted that good coaches find ways to get wins and Jon Cooper has done that during his tenure as the Lightning head coach. He’s human and makes mistakes, but he was still able to get the Lightning within a point of the playoffs after a disastrous two-month stretch of play that saw Tampa Bay in the basement of the Eastern Conference.
So, what has changed for Killorn this season that has made him more effective? Being placed on the third line with Tyler Johnson, being the net-front presence on the first power play unit, and ice time usage.
Looking at his numbers at Corsica, Natural Stat Trick, and Hockey Reference reveals an intriguing picture of Killorn. He’s roughly the same player he has been for the last few years. The most prominent outlier is that he received nearly two extra minutes of ice time last season compared to his other seasons.
Here are his average ice times per season since entering the NHL in the 2012-2013 season:
Killorn has consistently hovered in the upper 16-minute range and this season is hovering at the bottom of the 16-minute range. The rise of Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde filling into the top six this season has pushed Killorn further down the lineup, which is a good thing—it enables Killorn to see better matchups and, in theory, to score more.
14 points in 20 games is a 57 point pace which would be a career high for Killorn. As streaky as he is, this could be attainable given that he is on the first power play unit and has a few assists from it (six to be exact). Interestingly, Killorn is shooting far below his career average—5.9% while his career average is 9.9%. Additionally, he is only averaging 1.7 shots on net per game which is on pace for 139 shots; the previous two seasons Killorn averaged 1.9 and 2.17 (154 in 15-16 and 176 in 16-17). If his current pace continues, it will be Killorn’s lowest number of shots since 2014-2015 (130).
Possession wise, Killorn is the same player he’s always been. Corsica has his 5v5 CF% at 52.47% (last season it was 51.33%, his GF% is at 50% (last season it was 45.57%), his xGF% is at 52.46% (last season it was 46.91%). The differences in GF and xGF can be attributed to the team’s overall play in both seasons, but possession wise Killorn is doing nothing different than he has in previous seasons.
Obviously, we can’t talk about Killorn without considering his playoff performances. Some have said Killorn is the type of player you want in the playoffs, and his statistics paint an interesting picture. In 373 regular season games, Killorn has 233 points (0.62 points per game); in 47 playoff games, he has 33 points (0.70 points per game). Sure, it’s an increase, but nothing otherworldly.
The most significant increase for Killorn is his goal scoring: in 373 regular season games, he has scored 74 goals (0.19 goals per game), whereas in 47 playoff games he has scored 15 goals (0.31). Now that is a jump that warrants an eyebrow raise. Additionally, his shooting percentage in the playoffs is 12.8% (that’s almost a full 3% increase compared to his regular season numbers). If his playoff shooting percentage matched his regular season percentage, Killorn would have 95 goals (21 more than he currently has).
That’s the interesting thing about Killorn when comparing his point totals from regular season to the playoffs. His goal scoring shoots up, and there isn’t an explicit identifier as to why. [Adrenaline? - Acha]
Could we trade him?
So, what do we make of a player that General Manager Steve Yzerman committed to for seven years with an annual average salary cap of 4.45 million? Killorn’s playoff scoring pushed his monetary figure up a bit, but the only real complaint we can have about this contract is that it’s two years too long.
Conversely, Valtteri Filppula’s contract was once thought to be immovable, but Yzerman managed to move him so it isn’t impractical to believe that Killorn could still be traded down the road. Currently, that should be a minuscule thought in our minds. We have a player that, when appropriately utilized, is a good middle six winger that can supplement into the top six when needed; a player who can play in every situation and won’t be a liability in his zone; a player who raises his game during the playoffs and provides, even more, scoring depth. Also, he could have a career year (points wise) averaging his lowest ice time in his entire career (given the makeup of Tampa Bay and the power play usage he sees).
Last year was rough on Killorn, and he received plenty of criticism from the fanbase. Parts of it were deserving, but Killorn is a good hockey player who has his limitations (just like the vast majority of NHL players) and requires appropriate utilization.
He will always be streaky, but averaging 30-50 points is by no means a terrible thing in today’s NHL where scoring regularly in the 60-80+ point range is considered first-line production. Let’s enjoy Killorn while we have him because once he is no longer a Bolt and we see a lesser player who doesn’t have the same two-way impact in his spot, we’ll be wishing we still had him.