In the weeks leading up to the upcoming season, we'll preview the Nashville Predators on a player-by-player basis, examining their role on the squad and expectations relative to capabilities. So come along for the ride as we look ahead to 2010-11, from Andersson to Wilson. Next up: Kevin Klein.
Forever known as The Guy Who Was Drafted Ahead of Shea Weber, the big question with #8 is that with the prayers for #split28 finally answered, is the former 2nd-round draft pick ready for prime-time duty? Follow after the jump as we look ahead...
2nd-pairing defenseman relied upon to face dangerous opponents, play twenty minutes a night or more, and handle the bulk of the penalty killing duties. He gets almost no power play time. Last season, he also took almost 100 extra defensive-zone faceoffs compared to offensive ones, reflecting the defense-first workload that he's given.
Look for Klein to take on a similar role this year, but more reliable performance will be expected. The buzzword you're going to hear over and over again with Kevin will be "maturity". As a 25-year-old entering his 3rd full NHL season, he should be familiar with the pace and flow of the big-league game and not be intimidated.
One good sign on that front was that he only took 27 penalty minutes last season, a demonstration that he can play his position without resorting to hooks, holds and trips, leaving his teammates shorthanded. His Penalties Taken/60 Minutes was among the very best in the NHL last season among defensemen with at least 40 GP and 10:00 TOI.
Kevin begins a new 3-year, $4.05 million contract this season ($1.35 million annually). If he indeed shows that he can soak up tough minutes and return the Nashville PK unit to above-average performance, this will look like a bargain. If he struggles, it is perhaps a very movable contract for another team which might want to take a chance on his potential.
The one goal and ten assists didn't exactly dazzle, but that -13 Plus/Minus was worst on the Predators by a long way. Sure, Plus/Minus is a lousy stat, but in this case it confirms what the advanced stats say as well. His Relative Corsi (the difference between the Total Shots For & Against balance when he's on the ice as opposed to when he's on the bench) was 2nd worst on the Nashville blueline, and those extra defensive-zone faceoffs referred to above only partially excuse the damage.
On the penalty kill, his Goals Against/60 Minutes in 4-on-5 play was worst on the Nashville defense, and fixing that portion of the team is perhaps the most critical job facing Barry Trotz this fall. I'm guessing that Klein will get a chance to play a big role in that revival, simply due to the fact that the other two right-handed shots (Shea Weber and Cody Franson) are better used in more offensive roles. Sure, Weber will get his share of PK work regardless, but Klein must be able to carry the load here.
Given the job that he's asked to fill, don't look for outstanding stats from Klein. He won't score double-digit goals and he'll likely have a negative Plus/Minus again, but every team needs someone to take on the tough sledding, and as long as he can at least come close to breaking even, the Predators as a whole should prosper. I'd put him down for something like 3 goals and 15 assists, tops.
There is reason for hope that his overall defensive performance might improve. His pairing with Dan Hamhuis was an absolute train wreck at times last season, while his work with other partners was more reasonable. According to even-strength numbers from TimeOnIce.com, the Hamhuis/Klein combo was -12, which explains much of that team-worst -13 Plus/Minus. Will things turn out much better with Francis Bouillon, Ryan Parent, or Alexander Sulzer opposite him? That's the big question in Nashville this year.
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