Until recently, media questions for Kevin Klein
centered more on his Mohawk haircut than his play.
“It’s only a haircut,” the fifth-year Predators defenseman says. “The funny thing is I had it for about a month and a half, two months before anybody realized. So that shows you how much I don’t get recognized.”
Not that he’s complaining. While his teammates say he’s funny, laid back and outgoing off the ice, the 27-year-old Kitchener, Ont., native admits he’s not a fan of being in the spotlight. But with goals in back-to-back games in the Predators’ Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Detroit Red Wings—including a game-winner in Game 4 that gave Nashville a 3-1 series lead—the media-shy defenseman has quickly become a focus of reporters. And he can’t wait until he’s back under the radar.
“It’s nice to be behind the two big guys,” Klein says, referring to his All Star teammates Shea Weber
and Ryan Suter
. “You can just go about your business and do whatever you want. [Being in the limelight is] fun for a little bit but I can’t wait for Webs and Sutes to take back over.”
While Klein may eventually get his wish, he probably shouldn’t. Nashville’s second pick in the 2003 draft—incidentally, chosen between Suter and Weber—the 6-foot-1, 200-pound blueliner set a career high with 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) during the 2011-12 regular season. He also ranked 24th in the league in blocked shots (151), a skill that is one of his specialties.
“He’s playing great,” says his fellow defenseman Roman Josi
, a rookie. “He works so hard defensively, blocks every shot. And now he’s chipping in on the offensive [end] too. That’s great for him. For me, it’s perfect for a young guy. You’ve got a guy who’s really responsible defensively and that gives you more confidence and definitely helps me out.”
Klein helps out goaltender Pekka Rinne
too. In addition to preventing numerous shots from even challenging Rinne, Klein has become famous for coming up with big saves to bail out his netminder. In Game 3, he prevented a sure goal with a sliding stick save on a shot by Detroit’s Cory Emmerton. Needless to say, Rinne is a fan.
“I used to live with him in Milwaukee and overall, even off the ice, [he’s] one of the nicest guys you’ll meet,” Rinne says.
“On the ice he has that power and that speed and that feistiness,” the goaltender adds. “It’s a little bit different off the ice, like [it is] for most of the guys. He’s more of a laid-back guy off the ice.”
A bit of an unsung hero beyond the Predators family, Klein’s recent fortune on the offensive end has brought smiles to the bench and locker room.
“He puts in a lot of that work and does a lot of the little things that a lot of people don’t really see or give him credit for,” teammate Nick Spaling
says. “It’s nice to see some big things happen for him, a couple big goals.”
“Those guys who get so much appreciation and respect inside the locker room and probably not that much attention from outside, it’s always fun to see those guys create some points and score some goals,” says Rinne.
Klein, meanwhile, says he’s playing the same way he’s always played. He believes it’s simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time during this series. “It’s just one of those things that I’ve had a couple opportunities, they’ve gone in,” he says. “It’s nice when that happens.”
Likewise, Trotz hasn’t seen any significant changes to Klein’s game lately, but he has liked what he has seen. “His intensity and his focus [are] real, real solid,” the head coach says. “He’s making good decisions.”
When asked if Klein, who has at times been a whipping boy for fans, is proving his naysayers wrong, Trotz chuckled before replying. “I think every game you go out there, you want to prove people wrong,” Trotz says. “I’m not a favorite of everybody either. It really doesn’t matter. As long as he’s one of my favorites, I think that’s all that really matters.”