Klein gains recognition for his ability to go unnoticed by referees

Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 10:35pm
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Kevin Klein

Throughout his NHL career Kevin Klein has been happy to fly under the radar.

The veteran Nashville Predators defenseman basically spent the last four seasons in the formidable shadow cast by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

All three were selected in the 2003 draft and by 2008-09 each was a full-time NHL player. Klein, however, has not been selected for an Olympic or an All-Star team the way the other two have. He certainly has not been a Norris Trophy finalist the last two years the way Weber has.

“That’s the beauty of playing in Nashville,” he said. “You can just go about doing your job. In the playoffs, if you score a couple of big goals then the media comes flocking for a little bit, but I don’t know if I’d want the attention Weber gets every day. … I like being a low-key guy. I don’t mind that at all.”

Suddenly, though, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he goes unnoticed — by NHL referees, that is.

Klein has appeared in every game this season and has spent more time on ice than all but four of his teammates. He has not, however, spent a moment in the penalty box.

When Ryan Ellis was sent off for interference early in Tuesday’s victory over Detroit, Klein was left as the last Nashville regular not to have been called for a single violation.

His exemplary play comes in the wake of a 2011-12 season in which he earned just four penalty minutes in 66 contests — and those four were in one game.

In fairness, he was assessed 27 penalty minutes in a single game during his brief stint with a team in Denmark during the lockout last fall. As an NHL player, though, he had 27 minutes total in 2009-10 and a combined 28 over the last two-plus seasons.

“The biggest thing with me is he can skate,” coach Barry Trotz said. “When he’s moving his feet he doesn’t have to reach. A lot of times penalties are because you have to reach or you’ve stopped moving your feet.

“The other thing is he keeps his stick down. He’s one of the guys who always keeps his stick down. Those two things right there … help you stay out of the penalty box.”

The fact that he does stay out of the box is important because he spends so much time on the ice when one of his teammates goes in. Among the Predators, only Klein and Hal Gill average more than three minutes per game of ice time in shorthanded situations.

That will be especially important Friday when Nashville hosts Vancouver (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena) in the first of three meetings this season. At the start of play Thursday the Canucks were 10th in both the NHL in the number of power play opportunities this season (68) and power play success rate (19.1).

“When you’re relied on for the [penalty kill] you don’t really want to be in the box, and that’s one of the things they look at me to do well and I like being out there,” Klein said.

Nashville’s scouts certainly noticed him during his junior career in the Ontario Hockey League, where he was named the Western Conference’s best defenseman in 2004. The Predators drafted him in the second round (37th overall) in 2003, 12 picks before they grabbed Weber.

Early in his NHL career, though, he did not display the consistency coaches wanted to see.

“[Klein] over the years has had stretches where he’s been very, very good, and he’s had stretches where he’s been very, very inconsistent,” Trotz said. “I think he’s been a little more consistent this year. … I think he’s sort of where there’s not going to be too much fall-off from game-to-game.”

And maybe — just maybe — people will start to recognize the things he does for his team, or at least what he does not do.

“In junior and stuff if you’re a higher draft pick you get a little more attention,” Klein said. “But for the most part it’s just one of those things where you enjoy the quiet, enjoy your alone time and just go about working and doing the best you can do.

“I know people were dwelling on [the penalty minutes], and then I went over to Europe and got 27 in one game, randomly. I think under 10 [in a season], that’s tough to do. When you’re playing physical sometimes things happen — you get a stick up or stuff like that.”

If it has happened this season, none of the referees have noticed.