Nashville Predators defenseman Kevin Klein might not wear a letter on the front of his jersey, but if he is not officially a leader, at least he is a trend-setter.
Two months ago he started wearing his hair in a Mohawk. To begin the Western Conference Quarterfinals, fellow defensemen Francis Bouillon and Roman Josi followed suit. Now that the Predators have advanced to the conference semifinals, teammates Hal Gill, Nick Spaling, Matt Halischuk and Brandon Yip have jumped on the trend.
While Klein has set the tone in the coiffure department, he also has helped do so on the back end from an offensive perspective. He netted two goals in five games in the opening round, both of them off the rush and of the highlight-reel variety.
Normally, most of the attention on the Preds' blue line goes to their pair of All-Stars, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber -- with whom Klein shares membership in the draft class of 2003 -- but with most of the games against Detroit being nationally televised, Klein earned a bit more notoriety than he is accustomed to in a lower-profile market like Nashville.
"I enjoyed it a little bit, but at the same time it was a little overwhelming," Klein said. "It's amazing how many people are after you and stuff like that. I like flying under the radar, going about my game and to keep the outside distractions to a minimum."
General manager David Poile said Klein has been very reliable and used some of the same language to describe the 27-year-old as Klein did himself.
"Offensively, what he did in that third game with a spectacular end-to-end rush goal -- put that into his repertoire on a regular basis, he would be thought of in a much different light around the League," Poile said. "Playing behind Suter and Weber, with all due respect, you're not going to get as much accolades as you might on some other teams. They play big minutes in big situations and they're well-publicized through the League, so Kevin's a little under the radar."
In the next round, life could go back to business as usual for Klein. He said that compared to Phoenix -- Nashville's second-round opponent -- Detroit's defensemen do not join the rush as much. As a result, he did not have to worry as much about staying home and not yielding odd-man rushes, providing him those opportunities on which he scored. However, Coyotes defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, in particular -- with 24 regular-season goals between them -- are apt to jump up ice, so Klein said his Stanley Cup Playoff goal-scoring days may be fewer in number.
Klein's role also could be altered somewhat against the Coyotes. Against Detroit, Klein ranked third among Predators defensemen in shorthanded time on ice at 2:43 per game. In that series, Nashville played without defenseman Hal Gill (lower-body injury), whom the Preds acquired in large part because of his penalty-killing ability. Gill led the team at 3:28 per game shorthanded during the regular season, and if he returns for Game 1 on Friday, Klein could settle back into the third pair with Bouillon and get less time on the kill.
Klein said he doesn't expect his role to change much, but he seems to be comfortable with whatever role he does have. His path to the NHL was not paved with glitter the way it was for Suter, the seventh pick of that 2003 draft, or Weber, taken at No. 49. Klein was picked ahead of Weber, at No. 37 in that draft, which was held in Nashville. But Weber, a late-bloomer who Thursday was announced as a Norris Trophy finalist for the second straight season, was a full-time regular by the time he was 21. Suter, who had the NHL pedigree of his uncle Gary, a long-time Calgary Flame and Chicago Blackhawk, cracked the lineup even sooner, at 20.
Klein said their draft history doesn't come up much, and that Weber is a special player. As for himself, Klein's development was not always easy. He credited current Winnipeg coach Claude Noel, Klein's coach with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, for helping him along.
In 2008-09, his first full NHL season, during which he turned 24, Klein played 63 games. Prior to that, he spent almost the entire season in Nashville, but only played 13 games. In addition to Weber and Suter, Nashville's defense that season included Dan Hamhuis, Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon and Greg de Vries -- the first three all played on playoff teams this year, while de Vries played for Colorado's Stanley Cup-winning team in 2001.
"That was a difficult year," Klein said. "Definitely a learning experience. I went from playing so many minutes -- 25 minutes a game in the minors -- and then you come up and just kind of practice. It was a learning experience. I got by it and it made me a better person and a better player."
As Klein has matured, so has his team. Some in the organization have said the Preds were overly excited last year after winning the franchise's first playoff round and that made them vulnerable against Vancouver in the conference semifinals as they lost in six games. Klein said he sees a minor difference from last year.
"I think last year we did, too [expect to advance deep in the playoffs]," he said. "This year more people outside the team believe in us, which is nice to a certain extent, but we've always had kind of a belief that we can contend and this year Phoenix is going to be tough. It's going to be tough to get by them and hopefully we can."
Author: John Manasso | NHL.com Correspondent