Nashville Predators defenseman Kevin Klein (8) watches the puck in...

Nashville Predators defenseman Kevin Klein (8) watches the puck in a preseason game against the Islanders. (Sept. 27, 2013) Credit: AP

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Michael Del Zotto, the former first-round pick who apparently couldn't convince new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault that he would live up to his reputation as an effective offensive defenseman, Wednesday was shipped to Nashville in exchange for the Predators' bigger, more experienced Kevin Klein.

Klein, 6-1 and 200 pounds, is a nine-year NHL veteran with a style that is decidedly more defensive-oriented than the 6-foot, 195-pound Del Zotto. In 47 games for Nashville this season, Klein blocked 94 shots, delivered 75 hits and had one goal and two assists.

Del Zotto, 23, who just two seasons ago scored 10 goals and 41 points, had dressed for only 42 of the Rangers' 52 games this season, his fifth, and totaled only two goals and nine assists.

Hours after the trade was announced following the team's noon practice, in which Del Zotto participated, Vigneault and general manager Glen Sather said during a conference call they had been seeking a right-handed shooter -- that's Klein -- at Del Zotto's position.

Del Zotto shoots lefthanded and Vigneault said, "Michael wasn't comfortable on the right side . . . we just thought for our overall team, this would be a better fit for us."

Rumors of a trade had circulated since Del Zotto's extended benching in November, when Vigneault explained his hesitancy to use Del Zotto by saying, "I'd been told that his strengths are his ability to beat the forecheck, join in the rush, help out on the power play and get his shots through.

"I've not seen that on a consistent enough basis for him to be able to say he's going to be in the lineup every night."

At the time, Del Zotto expressed frustration and said he had been given no explanation from the coaching staff for his benching. Another factor for Wednesday's move, beyond Del Zotto's lack of production, was the fact he will become a restricted free agent this summer. Del Zotto, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2008, is making $2.5 million.

"For the most part," Vigneault said, "Michael was all right. He played some good hockey. I was expecting a little bit more offensively. For whatever reason, it didn't come out on a regular basis."

With Steve Zipay

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