The New York Rangers have had more issues than expected this season on the defensive side of the puck, but Kevin Klein has been consistent and is essential for stabilizing the Rangers defensive core.
Klein was acquired by the Rangers back in 2014 for Michael Del Zotto. When he arrived he wasn’t expected to do much more than play a defensive game, add some toughness, and eat up ice-time. Now in his third season in New York, he’s made his way from being a defensive plug to a go-to-guy on the right side of the defense.
Since last season, Klein has had this ability to come up with timely goals, which for a defenseman is somewhat rare. Look at when the Rangers played the Ducks in Anaheim; somehow the defender was able to cash in for both New York goals and help his team beat one of the best from the West. On the second goal, Klein jumps up into the play to create a mismatch and manages to have a puck hit him and find its way into the net with only 6:41 remaining in the tilt.
Of course, the defender making such plays isn’t news to Rangers’ fans; he has a history of being able to join the rush to capitalize, often when the team needs him most. Just have a look back to February 21st, when the Rangers played host to the Detroit Red Wings. The game was a tight-checking affair heading into overtime tied 0-0, Klein saw some daylight, pressed the advantage and managed to snap a shot right past Jimmy Howard, who was stellar in the bout.
Klein’s also managed goals this season against Washington, Chicago, New Jersey, and Dallas, so it’s clear that the defender brings out his most well-rounded game against the better opponents.
Holding the Fort
The right-side of the New York defense is still a disappointing area for the team; there’s Dan Girardi, who’s game has been inconsistent this season in the shutdown role, and there’s Dan Boyle, who despite being brought in for his offensive ability has been just “OK”. Both players have successful resumes, but for some reason, can’t seem to deliver their “A” game on a nightly basis.
Klein has played in just 63 games and has recorded 22 points which are more than Girardi (17 points in 70 games) and Boyle (21 points in 69 games). To get an idea of his overall play we can look at his plus/minus where he’s second on the Rangers with a +20 rating. Only Ryan McDonagh is better in this area with a +27. The rear-guard also leads the team in even-strength time on ice with 17:55.
The point is, without him standing tall on the blue line the Rangers could be in some trouble.
Finding Klein for Del Zotto was another spectacular move for former General Manager Glen Sather, and the fact that the defender seems to keep improving is all just a bonus for the Rangers. Another positive for the organization is that he still has two-years left on his deal at the incredible rate of $2.9 million per season.
He reminds me of Anton Stralman, in that he came to the Rangers as a player stuck in a role, that exploded into being a productive player all over the ice. There’s no doubt that the Rangers’ Coaching Staff trusts Klein; you also have to tip your cap to him for being so strong while his teammates have struggled, but the fact is if Girardi and Boyle don’t find consistency in the post-season, it won’t matter.