As a virtual mainstay on the right side of the Nashville Predators’ second defensive pairing for the last several seasons, Kevin Klein has had a virtual revolving door of partners who have played on his left side over the years.
Dan Hamhuis, Roman Josi, Victor Bartley and others all have teamed up with Klein to man the blue line in recent seasons. While who his partner is changes seemingly every year, Klein has remained the mark of consistency.
No matter who jumps over the boards with him when his name is called as the next up, Klein finds a way to mesh with his partner.
“You just go with the flow,” Klein said. “They are all good players, so it is just trying to find out the tendencies. It might take a few games just to get the tendencies down, what they like to do, how they move, where the outs are, things like that. If you can encourage them to talk as much as possible, that always makes it simpler.”
When the Predators are on the road, their opponents have the final change, and teams often make an effort to keep their top offensive lines away from Nashville’s top defensive pairing, anchored by team captain Shea Weber. That means Klein frequently has to face some of the league’s top forwards for entire games.
“Kleiner is underappreciated at times for what he does and the minutes he carries,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a good hockey player. We’ve put him with different partners.”
Just prior to the start of last September’s lockout, the Predators signed Klein to a five-year, $14.5 million contract. Even with the uncertainty of what the post-lockout NHL would look like, there is little question that Klein would have fetched more on the open market had he been allowed to play out the one remaining year of his contract and become a free agent.
Following his recall from Milwaukee of the AHL last season, Bartley spent a lot of time playing with Klein.
“Some defensemen are good when they are not being talked about and that’s definitely him,” Bartley said of Klein. “He’s a guy that just takes the body, simple outlet passes, blocks shots, does a great job on the PK. He’s kind of the rock at the back end that just plays hard and doesn’t expect any credit who just works hard every night.”
Klein is relied upon to kill penalties. He is usually available to do so too. Over the course of the last two seasons, Klein has only been assessed a total of four minor penalties, the fewest of any NHL defenseman who has played in 100 or more games in that span.
Klein led the Predators in shorthanded time on ice last season at 2:44 per game.
Looking ahead to the 2013-14 season, Trotz thinks that his defensive pairings will be more flexible, something they have worked on in their preseason games.
“By design this year, we’ve traded off partners a lot,” Trotz said. “It is not always going to be Josi and Weber this year; it might be Josi and Klein and it might be (Seth) Jones and Weber or (Ryan) Ellis and Weber or Barts and Klein. So we are going to move guys around a little bit based on play. I asked the two young guys Ellis and Jones if they wouldn’t mind playing left and doing that during the course of the preseason. I just think it makes them better players if they play both sides.”
Trotz has been known to shuffle his forward lines around on occasion, so it will be interesting to see how the defensive pairings evolve this season.