Defenseman Kevin Klein made his NHL debut Saturday night for the Nashville Predators as they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The 6'1", 195-pound Kitchener, Ont. native logged 13:56 of ice time, registering four hits and two blocked shots, only hours after being recalled from the Predators' American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee.
Klein filled a spot in the Nashville lineup vacated by Kimmo Timonen, who missed the game with the flu. The 20-year-old was paired alongside a familiar partner in Greg Zanon, who had made his NHL debut two nights earlier after being recalled from Milwaukee. It might surprise some that the two blue liners with the least NHL experience would be paired together, but Trotz explained the rationale following Saturday's game.
"Klein had been away from the Admirals for a funeral and he hadn't skated for a couple days," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "So the first thought was to have [Admirals defenseman Shea] Weber ready in case Klein didn't skate very well or didn't have his legs. [Predators assistant general manager Ray Shero and Milwaukee head coach Claude Noel] watched [Klein] play [Friday] night, and they said he played really well. He played strong. He's got experience. He's got poise.... They felt that Klein, because of the experience with Zanon--they played two years together--that that would probably be a real good fit. So I trust our management and our minor league coaches on their evaluation process. So that was really an easy decision."
Klein and Zanon were both reassigned to Milwaukee on Sunday and were in the lineup for Milwaukee's Sunday night game against the Peoria Rivermen. Klein leads the Admirals with 13 assists and leads team defensemen with 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists) in 18 games this season. He also ranks second on Milwaukee with a +6 rating. The second-year pro was originally Nashville's third choice, 37th overall (second round), in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
"Those guys were here in training camp not that long ago," Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. "They're good players. You look at our farm team doing really well--they have some really talented players and guys developing. There's no reason for them not to be successful. We played together in training camp so we know each other. They do a great job. They just step in and play long minutes and do well."
"We had three defensemen that had a combined 24 NHL games, and [Predators rookie Ryan] Suter had 23 of them," Trotz said. "I was really happy with the guys that have come up and played and have done a really wonderful job."