A little more than halfway through the current NHL season, Kevin Klein’s ice time has increased from 2008-09 more than any other defenseman in the league.
Next season, he’ll see his salary jump.
The Nashville Predators signed Klein to a three-year contract extension on Tuesday. The deal begins with 2010-11, runs through 2012-13 and will pay him $1.35 million per season.
Currently, the 25-year-old earns $800,000 in the second year of a two-year deal he signed prior to 2008-09.
“I think there’s a big difference this year for Kevin, and he’s in a very solid position with our team,” general manager David Poile said. “… He’s had more opportunity this year, and I think he’s seized it and has been playing among our top four defensemen pretty much all season.”
Klein is one of four Nashville players who average better than 20 minutes of ice time per contest. His current 20:12 average is 7:33 more than in 2008-09, when he appeared in a career-high 63 contests.
A second round pick in 2003, he has played 129 career games for the Predators, including 48 of 49 this season. Much of time he has been paired with Dan Hamhuis, and on occasion – last Friday’s 1-0 victory at Calgary, for example – those two have matched up against the opposing team’s top offensive unit.
“They were excellent at Calgary,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They shut (Jerome) Iginla right down.”
Klein has nine points (one goal, eight assists) this season. The assists total matches his career-high, which he set in 2008-09.
He is the third defenseman from the 2003 draft (held at the Sommet Center) signed to long-term deals by Nashville. First-round pick Ryan Suter is under contract through 2012-13, and Shea Weber, also a second-round choice, is signed through next season. Suter and Weber signed their current deals following the 2007-08 season.
Another defenseman drafted in 2003, Alexander Sulzer, is in the first year of a two-year deal he signed last January.
“I really like our defense, and I like the young defensemen we have coming up,” Poile said. “It’s one of the reasons, I think, we win most nights.”
• Forward Jordin Tootoo will return to the lineup in the Predators’ next contest, 8 p.m. Thursday at Phoenix.
The rugged forward has missed the last 17 games with a broken foot sustained Dec. 12 against Detroit. He also missed 13 games at the start of the season with a hip flexor strain.
No other Nashville player has missed more than 11 games thus far because of injury.
“(Tootoo) will play the next game,” Trotz said. “He could have played (Monday) night. He was cleared to play. He missed six weeks. I just wanted him to get a few practices in.”
• Forward Andreas Thuresson was reassigned to Milwaukee following Monday’s 4-3 loss to Toronto.
Thuresson appeared in the previous 11 contests but was a healthy scratch against Toronto. The 2007 fifth-round choice has played a total of 21 games in two separate stints for Nashville this season.
He has one goal and two assists for the Predators.