Sunday, August 14, 2011
Could Kevin Klein be the most important Predator in the 2011-2012 season? I bet that's not a question that you ever thought you would hear. With a roster that boasts names like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, a player like Klein is often overlooked.
The fact of the matter is that you pretty much know what you're going to get out of Weber, Suter and Rinne. Weber and Suter make up what many consider to be the best defensive pairing on the face of the earth. Rinne is a Vezina Trophy caliber goaltender.
Klein, however, has faced scrutiny from fans since he's been in Nashville. Fair or unfair, that's just the way it has been. This year, however, Klein is in a position that he's never been in while he's been with the Nashville Predators.
It's very possible that Nashville's third defensive pairing will be made up of rookies. Youngsters like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm will be battling for a spot on the Predators roster in training camp. When you throw in the fact that Jonathon Blum is technically still a rookie, it's possible that three out of six defensemen on the Preds' roster will be rookies.
That makes Klein's job this year very important. He has to be more defensively sound than he ever has been before. While all of the young defensemen who will be battling for spots have a great amount of talent, they're still rookies who have never played at the NHL level before. Klein will have to be rock solid on his pairing with Blum, and will have to continue blocking shots the way he has for the past few years.
You've got to figure, especially at the beginning of the year, the third defensive pairing that is made up of rookies will be vulnerable. It just takes time getting used to playing at the NHL level. That means that Klein and Blum will have to play shutdown defense on a nightly basis. Klein gets in trouble when he pinches up on defense at the wrong time and gets sloppy while handling the puck. This year, the Predators simply cannot afford that.
The good thing for Preds' fans is that Klein has the potential to be a really good defenseman. Contrary to popular belief, he's really not that bad. Last season, he was Nashville's best penalty killing defenseman, and was top 5 in the entire league in blocked shots on the year. If Klein can work on the mental aspect of the game, and not pinch when he shouldn't, he's really a pretty good defenseman. The Preds are definitely going to need him to be that guy this year.
Defense has always been a strength of the Predators. With Weber and Suter, you know that an opponent's top line will have their work cut out for them on a nightly basis. Klein and Blum are going to be the X-factor. If they play well, Nashville's defense will be near the top of the league again and making the playoffs will be very likely. If they don't, the Preds could potentially be in very serious trouble.
Posted by Robby Stanley at 10:28 PM