One of the best things about drafting college players is there is plenty of time for them to develop, while a team owns their rights.
Some just play a year or two to get more seasoning before turning pro, but there are four years available in what has become a more competitive environment.
Alex Killorn has used all four to his benefit.
The versatile forward could have signed with the Lightning after his third season at Harvard last spring, but after much thought the left-handed shot decided to hone his game for one more year.
"I thought I had a lot left to prove in college," said Killorn, who had 89 career points in 116 games for the Crimson through Monday. "I don't know if I was ready to step in as a pro and be a key player yet.
"We have a good team. We could really do some special things that I haven't accomplished at Harvard. I just wanted to give myself the best chance to be the best pro player I can be. I thought that by staying one more year, I'd become a better player, become stronger and getting my degree was a big factor in that."
Killorn, 22, is two classes from finishing his degree as a government major and could sign after Harvard's season ends.
The 6 foot 2, 207-pounder is doing his best to make the Crimson's season last as long as possible. The goal is to end the college hockey campaign at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the Frozen Four in April.
Killorn has 14 goals and 12 assists in 20 games for Harvard, including seven power-play goals. The Lightning's third-round pick in 2007 is just three points from matching his career high of 29 points last season and is a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey's top player, for the second straight season.
"It's nice to be nominated," Killorn said. "I'd love to do even better in the second half to see how much further I can go with that."
Killorn was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but his family moved to Beaconsfield – just outside Montreal – when he was about a year old. The Lightning drafted him out of Deerfield Academy Preparatory School in Massachusetts when he was 6-0, 161 pounds.
Steve Thomas, the Lightning’s player development consultant, said the type of physical growth he has shown is common for college players who play fewer games than their major junior counterparts. There is more time in between games to improve in the weight room.
Thomas has been impressed by Killorn’s steady progress on the ice as well.
“I see a guy that is ready to make the jump to the professional ranks,” Thomas said. “He’s a big, strong kid who can really shoot the puck. He goes out and makes a difference every night for his team.”
The next step won’t be easy.
“It’s a huge jump,” Thomas said. “It’s going to take him a little time to acclimate to that. But he’s a mature kid and he’s shown he can be a leader.”
Killorn has been to the Lightning’s prospects camp five straight summers and said he has picked up several things each year that have benefited him from weight training to diet. He has also stepped up his off-ice training in the summer.
The last two summers he has skated with Lightning center Dominic Moore in the Boston area. They met before the 2009-10 season when Moore worked out with the Crimson while he awaited a contract offer.
Killorn has stayed in touch with the former Harvard standout, soaking up all the knowledge he can.
“He’s got a big body, can skate well and has really good skills,” Moore said. “There’s really nothing that can hold him back. He can take himself as far as he wants to go.”
Killorn said he has gotten plenty of feedback from the Lightning, especially the last two seasons.
“They’ve been really positive with me and I have had a lot of dialogue with them,” Killorn said. “They’ve told me to keep doing what I’m doing. You can always get stronger, work on your play away from the puck and that’s what I’m focusing on.”
It’s been a fun, but somewhat frustrating year for Killorn’s Crimson. Harvard played an outdoor game recently at Fenway Park and it has been competitive in every game. Soon, Harvard will have a legitimate chance to win Boston's Beanpot Tournament.
Harvard played eight overtimes in an 11-game stretch recently, going 1-3-7 in that stretch.
“That’s the way it’s been all season – almost there, but not quite,” Killorn said. “...But I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Killorn made sure of that with game-winning goals as Harvard swept Yale and Brown last weekend. The Crimson are fourth in the ECAC at 5-4-6 and stand 6-6-8 overall.
Lightning rookie Brett Connolly was Killorn’s roommate at prospects camp in Brandon last July.
“He’s a smart hockey player and he’s got one the best shots, releases, I’ve ever seen,” Connolly said. “He’s strong on the puck and has great hockey sense.”
Four years of college hockey has allowed him to develop more fully mentally and physically, but he won’t stop trying to improve.
Just less than five years after being drafted, Killorn’s pro career is so close he can touch it.
“It becomes more real every day,” Killorn said. “It’s a dream, but I understand it’s also a tough road. You have to make sure you’re well prepared to do the best job you can.”