TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper knew he had someone special in center Alex Killorn the first time he coached him.
That was late in the 2011-12 season, when Killorn made what Cooper described as a seamless transition from college to the pro game during a stint with the then title-bound Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League.
Killorn has been making smooth transitions up the pro hockey ladder ever since, including an impactful jump to the Lightning’s top scoring line during Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series with Montreal.
Pushed to the top line by an injury to leading scorer Ondrej Palat, Killorn helped maintain that unit’s potency by quickly producing a goal and an assist during the Lightning’s 5-4 overtime loss on Wednesday.
“He has that ability to play with anybody anywhere, and he was certainly hot that night,’’ Cooper said of Killorn, who skated alongside Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson on the top line. “They had a lot of chemistry going.’’
They hoped to keep it going in Game 2 on Friday as Palat was forced to sit out the game with what the Lightning are calling an upper-body injury. Cooper was confident they would achieve their objective.
“Killorn has played (on the top line) before,’’ Cooper said. “He was there when Stammer went down (with a broken leg), and he played there a little bit before that with Marty (St. Louis) and Stammer. He’s bounced around a bit.”
All that bouncing around hasn’t affected Killorn’s scoring touch. He scored 17 goals and chipped in 24 assists to rank sixth on the team in scoring during his first full season with the Lightning.
Of course, that’s pretty much what the Lightning expected. No matter where he’s been, whether it was with Norfolk two years ago, Syracuse last year or the Lightning this year, Killorn has always been a steady goal scorer.
The Lightning first noticed that seven years ago when Killorn was playing for the Deerfield (Mass.) Academy prep school. He scored 18 goals in 25 games for the Big Green that year and, a few months later, Tampa Bay spent its third pick in the 2007 draft on him.
That began an unusual journey to the NHL, one that weaved through the ivy covered walls of Harvard, where Killorn spent four years studying, in order, hockey and political science.
“I really wanted to play in Boston, so Harvard seemed like a good choice,’’ Killorn said. “The hardest part is getting in, but playing hockey made it a little easier for me.”
It took him two years, but Killorn eventually made the transition to big-time college hockey, as well, scoring 38 goals in 68 games as a junior and senior before joining Cooper’s Norfolk team late in the year.
“We had a really good team that year, and it was hard to come in and crack that lineup, but he was the one guy that did it, and that’s when we knew we had a player,” Cooper said.
“Then last year we went to Syracuse and Killorn carried our team. We went through this one stretch where he kind of single-handedly bailed us out, and it wasn’t long after that he got the call to Tampa, and he’s been here ever since.”