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Alex Killorn is on pace to shatter career highs. How?

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How is this constantly maligned player putting up such great numbers?

Florida Panthers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

Early on this season, there were some people on social media that were pointing to “point paces” for certain Tampa Bay Lightning players to complain about the cap hit of those players. This isn’t new. It’s been a common refrain, especially early in the season. It’s usually a pretty silly exercise, especially when we’re not even to the quarter mark of the season. This is even more silly when talking about players that have been streaky scorers during their career. Or when not taking circumstances into account.

One such target is Alex Killorn. He has often been maligned for his cap hit and contract. Granted, I believe that the contract he was given was a couple of years too long, but the cap hit was perfectly fine. He’s been a consistent half point per game player throughout his NHL career and his $4.45 million cap hit is a discount of at least $500,000 to $1 million compared to what he would have signed for as a free agent.

Even with his consistent overall point output though, he’s been a very streaky scorer and that streakiness has been more pronounced the past couple of seasons. Also to add to his consistency is his time in the line up. Over the previous four seasons, he only missed two games. He’s missed two games this season due to an injury, but over his eight years in the NHL, he’s missed a grand total of 25 games out of 575 possible games. Since the beginning of the 2012-13 season when Killorn entered the league, only 34 players have played in more games and he also leads all Lightning players.

Seeing that we’re closing in on the half way point of the season in another couple of weeks, Killorn has built up enough of a trend to be able to actually look ahead a bit and look to how he might turn out this season. He’s on pace to play 80 games with 26 goals, 41 assists, and 67 points. All three would shatter his career highs of 19 goals in 2016-17 and 32 assists and 47 points in 2017-18.

For a player in his age-30 season, that is quite something. It also begs the question of “How?” How is he doing this. Is it teammates? He is playing with Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos of late. We know he’s developed quite a bit of chemistry with Cirelli over the past two seasons worth of games, so that’s no surprise. But he’s also gotten plenty of ice time with Steven Stamkos in the past too. He’s also playing on the first power play unit, but that’s also not new for Killorn.

So, let’s break it down a bit and see what’s different about this year compared to the other six full seasons of his career to get a sense of what we’re seeing from him this year.

All stats are as of 12/26/2019. Stats come from a combination of NHL.com, Hockey-Reference.com, Evolving-Hockey.com, and NaturalStatTrick.com.

Even Strength Scoring

So far this season, Killorn has put in five goals, 12 assists, and 17 points at even strength. Based on his previous career pace, he should be at five goals, eight assists, and 13 points. The assists are where we find the delta (the difference) in this part of his game. That seems understandable when you consider that he has spent about a third of this year with Steven Stamkos. However, he has only assisted on one Stamkos goal at even strength. His other EV assists have come on goals from Cirelli (3), Victor Hedman (2), Mathieu Joseph (2), Nikita Kucherov (1), Cedric Paquette (1), Jan Rutta (1), and Kevin Shattenkirk (1).

The next question to ask is if he’s a passenger here. Is he getting more secondary assists and benefiting from good play around him that’s giving him more assists than normal? Prior to this season, Killorn was picking up 0.67 Primary Assists per 60 minutes and 0.41 Secondary Assists per 60 minutes at EV. This season, both numbers have jumped to 0.72. The answer to that second question is almost definitely a yes with his secondary assists rate jumping. The fact that his primary assist rate is also up suggests that there might not be as much noise in that increase as you might otherwise expect if his primary assist rate was unchanged.

Power Play Scoring

Killorn has been in and out of the first power play unit throughout his time in the NHL. His size and ability to battle along the boards has made him valuable in a down low position. He’s also a better passer than he is usually given credit for. But, that hasn’t translated to a lot of power play points for Killorn. By far, he does most of his damage at even strength.

This year, that’s different. From his previous career numbers, he should only be at one goal, two assists, and three points. That’s not a lot of power play production. But so far this year, he’s at six goals, five assists, and 11 points. His six goals have already set a career high on the power play. He’s only two assists away from tying his career high in that stat as well.

Over the last couple of seasons, when he’s been on the power play, Killorn has been relegated more to hanging out below the end line. He was there to help support Kucherov and Brayden Point with battles in the corners. He was also an outlet for Kucherov if he didn’t have a pass to the other three players on the power play and needed to move the puck away from pressure.

The big difference this year is that the team is using him more in front of the net. He’s gotten some real luck with deflections. In one game against the New York rangers, he had two power play goals that were deflections of pucks from Kucherov and Stamkos. During an interview, he mentioned he wasn’t even trying to deflect the puck, just trying to get out of the way of the shot. It’s also put him in position to pop in some rebounds as well.

Of his six power play goals, the primary assist has come from Kucherov and Stamkos twice each, and one each from Hedman and Shattenkirk. He’s gotten the primary assist on three goals from Ondrej Palat, Point, and Stamkos. His other two were secondary assists with passes to Victor Hedman for goals by Stamkos and Kucherov.

I have my doubts if his power play pace will continue like it has over the rest of the season. But you never know. He’s already surpassed his expectations by a lot and even if he doesn’t score again on the power play for the rest of the year, he’s already posted his best season with the advantage.

Possession Statistics

Something else I wanted to take a look at was a broader view of how he and the team is performing when he’s on the ice compared to the rest of his career. This is so we can see if there is some other trend to his game, especially at 5v5. While his power play success may not continue at the pace it has, I would like to get a feel for if we can expect things to continue, or maybe even tick up further, at even strength.

Alex Killorn Comparative Stats

Time GF60 GA60 FF60 FA60 CF60 CA60 xGF60 xGA60 Sh% Sv%
Time GF60 GA60 FF60 FA60 CF60 CA60 xGF60 xGA60 Sh% Sv%
Previous 2.74 2.22 42.98 38.61 58.1 50.83 2.28 2.08 9 0.9203
2019-20 3.38 1.91 40.15 40.19 56.18 50.77 2.25 2.22 11.26 0.9346

The Lightning are clearly scoring more while Killorn is on the ice than in previous seasons. The team is also allowing less goals and he is getting better goaltending behind him than in the past. The team is also seeing a better shooting percentage than in the past by 2.26% when he’s on the ice which accounts for why the Goals For rate is up. The team is actually taking a couple fewer shots per hour when he’s on ice this year. The defense is about the same though the Expected Goals Against has been up a little bit this year moving Killorn from the very, very good to more of an above average rating.

Streakiness

As I mentioned before, Killorn is an incredibly streaky scorer. He’s a player that throughout his career has often gotten hot for four or five games and then gone cold for four or five games. Those streaks have become a little more extreme over the past couple years, but he is consistently inconsistent.

This season has been different for him though. He’s been almost constantly hot. He started off the season with a two assist night in the first game of the year and then went pointless for five games. Since then, he’s only had two pointless streaks, both being just two games long. He’s only had one long point streak which was a seven gamer that started with the two games against Buffalo in Sweden. He scored ten points over those seven games then went two games without a point. In the 11 games since then, he’s had four games in which he went without a point, but followed each one up with at least a point. He’s recorded 12 points in the past 11 games.

Closing Remarks

That consistent scoring as well as the power play production has definitely put him on a far higher goals and points pace than we’re used to seeing from Killorn. With 47 games left in the season, there’s definitely some question of if he can continue to produce this way. Even if he were to fall back to his old scoring rates for the rest of the season, he would still finish with 20 goals, 31 assists, and 51 points. That would give him new career highs for goals and points, falling one short of his career high for assists.