Continuing the Report Card series, let's take a look at a guy that no one else wanted to write about because he's so boring and reliable... but that is exactly why I wanted to write about him.
Kevin Klein is a lot more than the guy we got in the Del Zotto trade and he is a lot more than a guy who has the bone structure of a predatory cat. Klein provided the Rangers with something the team sorely needed and gave the Rangers blue line toughness, balance, and reliability. It's easy to forget about the acquisition of Klein during the season with all the attention that the Marty St. Louis trade got, but the Klein trade was a big part of making the Rangers a better hockey team and getting them to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
On January 22nd, 2014 the Rangers finally parted ways with Michael Del Zotto, a genie that granted wishes only in the form of headaches and turnovers, for veteran blueliner Kevin Klein. The trade came as a bit of a shock to most Rangers fans. A lot of people thought that Del Zotto would perhaps command more in a trade but there was no doubt that his stock had taken a hit after his failure to develop his game after a head-turning rookie campaign. In exchange for the puck-moving, left handed MDZ the Rangers got the stalwart right handed Kevin Klein who was under contract for a cap hit of $2.9 million until the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. The Rangers traded away youth and potential for reliability and a player with a fixed cap hit and income for another four years, and in doing so they drastically improved their blue line.
A New Third Pair
Klein's game compliments John Moore's game exceptionally well. In 30 games with the Rangers in the regular season, Klein spent most of his time on the right side of the ice playing alongside the smooth skating John Moore. Klein had 6 points in the regular season as a Ranger with 15:01 TOI/G. Klein was seldom used on the penalty kill and almost never used on the man advantage so it shouldn't come as a shock that putting up points wasn't a big part of his game.
His role with the team was a simple one; to provide the Rangers with a reliable third defensive pairing that wouldn't be a liability on the ice. Klein helped make the Rangers third defensive pairing a hell of a lot better than it was when Michael Del Zotto was in the mix and he helped to give the Rangers blue line something it desperately needed; balance. Klein also added an element of toughness to the team without taking a single minor in the regular season (he took just 3 in the Playoffs). Although Klein never delivered many punishing hits or did much to draw attention to himself, he played the way you would hope and dream your third defenseman would play. Klein was solid, made very few mistakes, and made the occasional great play or great hit that got you excited about the depth of the team.
Klein in the 2014 Playoffs
Klein played a reduced role in the playoffs for the Rangers mostly because the team relied so heavily upon the amazing ability of Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh ate up minutes and those minutes had to come from somewhere, so Klein saw his ice time drop to 13:17 in the postseason. In the playoffs Klein passed the eye test. Again, he was nothing spectacular but he was solid. He seemed to be a bigger part of the Rangers offense in the postseason and was involved in more rushes than he was in the regular season. This led to him being out of position a bit more than most of us would have liked but there is no doubt that the Rangers coaching staff asked Klein, a great skater in his own right, to get more involved with the offense.
Klein's lone postseason tally was an empty-netter in the Rangers 5-1 rout over the Penguins in Game 5 of that series. Klein was nothing exceptional in the playoffs but he gave the Rangers the very same thing he gave them in the regular season; a more reliable third defensive pairing and that is exactly the kind of thing that helped the team become Eastern Conference Champions.