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The emergence of the Rangers' Kevin Klein

New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein looks on

New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein looks on against the Montreal Canadiens in the third period of an NHL game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

When Kevin Klein and his family were uprooted from Nashville after eight seasons in a surprising trade for Michael Del Zotto last Jan. 22, the Rangers believed they were swapping a young player with a reputation for offense for a more defensively responsible player.

After all, Klein had only 17 career goals in 433 NHL regular-season games.

But the low-key native of Kitchener, Ontario, who turns 30 Saturday, has burst into prominence with a career-high six goals this season, including his second overtime game-winner on Monday against the Penguins. That one came after a small chunk of the top of his left ear was sliced off by Zach Still's first-period high stick.

"Pain is temporary," said Klein, after the piece was reattached with 13 stitches and he returned to the ice. "My wife was laughing, she said: 'Your ear?' It's not as if it was a finger. You can play."

After plastic surgery Tuesday, Klein tweeted that all went well, with a photo and hashtag #tysonbitme. One of his pals from Nashville tweeted back: "Were the stitches gluten-free?"

That was a telling insight. Beyond the toughness, Klein is not your ordinary NHL defenseman.

Off the ice, you'll find him practicing yoga, reading, driving a Tesla (an electric sports car) and musing that after retiring, he would like to run an eco-friendly bed-and-breakfast in Canada.

For the second time in his pro career, Klein recently shaved his hair into a Mohawk.

"To look meaner," he said.

But Rick Nash, who faced Klein often when he was with Columbus, said he "always was hard to play against."

Mats Zuccarello appreciates Klein's personality.

"Even off the ice, he's an important guy for our team," Zuccarello said. "With his energy, he gets everyone going every day, and he's chipping in with big goals and big plays."

Klein credits his recent scoring binge to the forwards. "When they get it to us at the point, we can try to change the angle,'' he said, "and when they're driving hard to the net like that, it creates a lot of chaos."

It certainly was chaotic after the trade. The family was living in Manhattan, where Jody, Klein's wife, and sons Joseph and Oliver felt like tourists.

Now they are settled in a house in Westchester, near Dan Girardi, a former teammate with the Guelph Storm in 2003-04, and his family. By all accounts, they love the suburban lifestyle.

On a team searching for consistency -- a mantra that runs through the locker room -- Klein has been the team's steadiest defenseman and the most productive.

His three game-winners and six even-strength goals are tied for first among NHL defensemen. He is tied for the lead in plus/minus (plus-9) on the Rangers, who will have Klein at a bargain price of $2.9 million annually through 2017-18.

Early in the season, Henrik Lundqvist called Klein "a magnet" because shots were deflecting off Klein and past him. But in practice, he's come to appreciate his underrated heavy shot.

"If you don't use your pads or your glove, it's going to hurt," Lundqvist said. "I think he has great confidence right now with the way he moves and shoots the puck."

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