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Coyotes Fill Defensive Need By Acquiring Klesla

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE -- The Coyotes traded for veteran defenseman Rostislav Klesla on Monday a few hours before the NHL trade deadline.

Rostislav Klesla
“I’m really looking forward to a new start and joining the Coyotes,” Klesla said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about the team and the players. I’m really glad that I’m going there.”

► Click here to listen to Klesla talk about the trade.

Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said the deal, made with Columbus for left wing Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto, was necessary because of the injury suffered by defenseman/alternate captain Ed Jovanovski on Jan. 17. Jovanovski fractured multiple oribital bones in a helmet-to-head collision with Atlanta’s Patrice Cormier and is considered week-to-week.

"Up until ‘Jovo’ got injured, we had been focused on getting help up front," Maloney said. "But when he got hurt, we felt very vulnerable on our blue line, especially in the area of matchups and penalty killing. We searched for a top-four-player defenseman who can match up against good players, and we had to give to get."

► Click here to watch Maloney talk about the trade.

The Coyotes also acquired forward Dane Byers in the deal. The Coyotes immediately assigned Byers to their affiliate in the American Hockey League.

Klesla, 28, hasn’t played since Jan. 22 because of a knee injury. Maloney said Klesla is healthy now and that he would play Tuesday against Dallas.

Asked to describe his mind-set when he takes the ice, Klesla said: “The first thing is I always give it all I have and play 100 percent and everything else just kind of comes from that. I always want to be hard to play against and … be a reliable defenseman.”

Photo by Associated Press.
Coyotes Assistant Coach Dave King was Klesla's first NHL head coach when both were with Columbus. Maloney said King highly recommended the Czech Republic native.

“He (King) said ‘you’ll be surprised by his skill level,’” Maloney said. “He’s been used more as a matchup defenseman. I know some people talk about his foot speed a little bit, but he (King) was very high on him and the idea that he’s a legitimate three-four in this league in a matchup role, which is really the profile that we were looking for. There were some other defensemen out there that were a little more offensive, a little more puck movement per say, lighter. But he fit what we thought we needed right now. And if you look at the way we’re structured, if you look at our right side with (Michal) Rozsival and certainly Derek Morris and Adrian Aucoin, we’re rock solid. It was just the left side to defend was a little light for us.”

Klesla will wear sweater No. 16 for the Coyotes. He wore No. 97 for Columbus, for whom he played 515 regular-season games and four playoff games. He is the last member of the original Columbus Blue Jackets still playing in the NHL.

The departure of Upshall means more consistent playing time for left wing Mikkel Boedker, who has tallied six assists in a four-game point streak.

“Boedker is now an impact player,” Maloney said. "If anyone has been paying attention the last half-dozen games, he's playing all kinds of situations and making plays on the power play and we need to get him more ice. It's not just the games lately - even in practice you can see he jumps off the map.”

Maloney added that he’d also like to give AHL forwards Brett MacLean and Viktor Tikhonov more opportunity on NHL ice.

In other news, Maloney said backup goalie Jason LaBarbera, who was injured during warmups on Sunday in Chicago when he was accidentally hit in the head with a puck, is OK and that he would return to the team at Tuesday’s morning skate.
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