Last January, the Rangers completed a one-for-one trade which allowed them to pry defenseman Kevin Klein from the Nashville Predators for Michael Del Zotto. While the Predators opted to not re-sign Del Zotto, the Rangers are continuing to reap the rewards of the one-sided trade. Klein has enjoyed the most productive season of his career.
Through 54 games, Klein has scored nine goals and recorded 16 assists for 25 points. His plus-22 rating only trails Hart Trophy candidate Rick Nash for the team lead. Klein is 10th among NHL skaters in plus/minus. Additionally, his 14.1 shooting percentage ranks third on the Rangers behind Nash and superb rookie Kevin Hayes.
“Nobody expected this offense,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “Probably, he didn’t expect it either. This year, he’s found a way to get in the right spot with the right look. One thing, he probably don’t get enough credit for is his shot. He’s got a real, powerful, strong shot. He’s used it at the right time. He’s been a big-time contributor, not just points wise. If you look at his plus-minus, he’s played against some of the top lines and he’s right behind Nash.”
Klein’s four game-winning goals also is second-best on the Rangers behind Nash. His latest game-winner came in Monday’s 6-5 thriller over the rival Islanders. Teammates Dominic Moore, Derick Brassard and J.T. Miller spoke exclusively to XN Sports about Klein’s difference-making efforts.
“Since he came here, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by him,” Moore said. “He’s a well-rounded, two way player. He’s strong and steady. I saw it early on in the first practices when he came here. He plays smart, he knows his angles well, the way he competes – he’s just a steady, smart player.”
Klein extended his assist/point streak to five games in Monday’s victory at Nassau Coliseum. Over this stretch, Klein has recorded one goal and six assists. The Rangers have won four straight games and only trail the first-place Islanders by four points while having three games in hand.
This season, Moore has noticed Klein making ideal decisions in choosing when to join the attack.
“I think he’s found a little bit of a groove in terms of when to jump in and when not to,” Moore said. “His instincts have been great. Maybe he’s a little bit more comfortable doing that than he was when he first got here. He’s got a very heavy, hard shot. He’s had that all along. He’s finding ways to get it off.”
It seems that every teammate in the room raves about Klein’s heavy shot.
“It’s impressive,” Miller said. “He’s getting pucks to the net and has one of the hardest shots on the team – maybe the hardest slap shot on the team.”
“This year, when he has the chance to bomb it from up top – you know it’s going to create a lot of scoring chances and rebounds,” Brassard said. “His game is good all-around right now. It’s huge for our team. He’s a force out there.”
Brassard remembers playing against Klein as an opponent in the old Central Division when the Columbus Blue Jackets often locked horns with the Nashville Predators.
“I can remember my times playing against him when I was a younger guy in Columbus,” Brassard said. “I knew how solid he was defensively and how strong he was. Back then, I didn’t really know about his shot and everything. He was a shutdown d-man – and he still is. For me, it’s about the way he plays the game all-around. He’s improving all the time.”
Klein says his decision-making and reading of the game is coming naturally.
“It’s been natural this year,” Klein said. “Last year, I was joining the rush some, maybe not as much as this year. This year, you’re getting those opportunities to incorporate the ‘D’ as much as possible. It’s an overall thing.”
The 30-year-old believes the Rangers are one of a few teams that have the ability to ‘create chaos in the offensive zone’ thanks to their abundance of smooth-skating, forward-thinking blue liners.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on our team in the back end who can make plays,” Klein said. “You’ve seen that over the past month. A lot of our defenseman are chipping in offensively, and that’s great to see. There’s a few teams in the league that really incorporate their ‘D’ well. Just off the top of my head – you look at Calgary, Phoenix, Nashville, they have some ‘D’ that really get up a lot. When you can have four or five guys that can attack, it creates a little more chaos in the offensive zone.”
Brassard hailed Klein’s influence of bringing contagious positivity to the dressing room each day he shows up for practice and game nights.
“He’s a really good guy in the room,” Brassard said. “He brings a lot of energy. Every day, he’s always the same. He always has that same energy. I think that’s big for our team. The way he is around the rink, I think it’s really contagious. All season, he’s the same guy.”
LUNDQVIST SKATES PRIOR TO PRACTICE
Following Wednesday’s practice in Greenburgh, Vigneault admitted that injured goaltender Henrik Lundqvist participated in an on-ice workout prior to the team’s scheduled 11 a.m. practice.
“There is no update,” Vigenault said. “He’s just following what we told you a couple of weeks ago. He’s been doing a little off-ice, a little on-ice, same protocol.”
Lundqvist’s practice jersey was hanging in his dressing room stall. He did not practice with the team and did not speak following practice.
A Rangers spokesman further clarified that Lundqvist has been doing on-ice and off-ice cardio workouts prior as part of his recovery after he was struck in the throat with a puck in the Rangers’ victory 4-1 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 31. Lundqvist later admitted that he suffered a “sprained blood vessel” in a Feb. 8 press conference.
“I won’t play until I’m ready to play, and it won’t be an issue moving forward after that,” Lundqvist said. “I’m going to heal 100 percent.”
The Rangers previously stated that Lundqvist would remain sidelined for “at least three weeks” in statement released on Feb. 6.
Cam Talbot has been a steadying presence for the Rangers since being thrust into the starter’s role on Feb. 4 against the Boston Bruins. Talbot has gone 5-1-1 while Lundqvist has been sidelined.