Phoenix Coyotes: Keith Yandle Emerging as Top Defenseman

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Phoenix Coyotes: Keith Yandle Emerging as Top Defenseman
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Keith Yandle has given the Coyotes strength at the blue line, and a solid scoring threat.

For now, there might be some disappointment, but gaining a roster spot for the up-coming NHL All-Star Game is not a huge priority for Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle.

If you ask Yandle, a 24-year-old native of Boston, an All-Star selection is much ado about nothing. Sure, this would be something special, he indicated, but certainly not a consequence from which he will lose any sleep.

Last week, the NHL announced its selection of players for the NHL All-Star Games Jan. 30 at the RNC Center in Raleigh. Of the 10 defensemen chosen, four were from the Western Conference, including Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit, Brent Burns of Minnesota, Shea Weber of Nashville and Dan Boyle of San Jose.

"Sure, it would have been nice, and it's a great honor to play in this game," Yandle said after the Coyotes defeated Anaheim, 6-2 Jan. 15. "Life goes on, and I'm concerned only with the next game."

If growth and experience continue to be evident, there may not be too many All-Star disappointments ahead for Yandle.

Though his efforts are well documented among his teammates and coaching staff, the fact that Yandle labors in what is considered a small market, and his team is destined for little media attention, might produce a quiet desperation to have Yandle better known.

While Coyotes captain Shane Doan calls Yandle "one of top six defensemen in the league," his rising reputation is without notice. When the NHL announced its All-Star team for the coming event in Raleigh, Yandle was a noticeable absence.

"We've known about Keith for the last three years," Doan said. "What's made a difference is his confidence. He continues to get better and better, and is a big part of this team."

In the end, no Coyotes player was named to the midseason classic. That may be a tribute to the team's scoring balance and the fact that no one player stands out among the others. Tippett indicated that Doan was worthy of consideration, but save defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who will participate in the rookies' skill competition, there will be no Phoenix representation. 

Still, that does not compromise Yandle's value to his team.

"When he first came up, Keith was an offensive defenseman," Tippett said. "Now, he's improved his defensive game, and we've put him against the other team's team top offensive players. His game has gone to another level."

Yandle's advance among the league's elite was gradual but impressive. Drafted as the Coyotes' third choice in the fourth round, and 105th overall in the 2005 draft, Yandle came out of juniors, and won the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Emile Bouchard Trophy and the Teluis Trophy as that league's top defenseman. Immediately, he jumped to the NHL, but settled for the American Hockey League for his first pro season.

Appearing in only seven games for the Coyotes in the 2006-07 season, Yandle spent most of his initial professional season at San Antonio. Struggling, he was a minus-15 for the Rampage, and a minus-12 for the Coyotes during the 2007-08 season. Since, his defensive game has strengthened and Yandle has emerged as both a clear, offensive threat, and a steady defensive force at the blue line.

"In the last few years, I've received more ice time, and with that, my confidence has grown," Yandle added. "Plus, you begin to demand more of yourself, and has helped, too."

With an assist on Taylor Pyatt's 12 of the season at 12:29 of the second period Jan. 15 against the Ducks, Yandle's point production jumped to a team-high 35 points. He managed 41 scoring points (12 goals, 29 assists in 82 games) in all of last season.

For his part, Yandle has remained consistent in his scoring. Over the first 45 games this season, he experienced only two scoring droughts. Yandle was scoreless in four straight games from Oct. 17 to Oct. 25, and from Jan. 6 to Jan. 10. His season high of three points in a game was reached three times, Dec. 11 against Dallas, Dec. 29 against Los Angeles, and Jan. 13 against Toronto.

 

Ice Chips

Ray Whitney picked up his 900th NHL point when he scored from the slot at 7:35 of the opening period of the Coyotes' Jan. 15 win over Anaheim. He added another goal and assist in that game. In the same game, Radim Vrbata picked up an assist and that was his 300th career NHL scoring point...Toronto forward Mike Brown was suspended for three games, and will forfeit $8,669.34 in salary for leveling a lateral hit the head of Coyotes defenseman Ed Jovanovich Jan. 13. There was no penalty assessed on the play...Defenseman Adrian Aucoin's goal Jan. 15 was his second of the season, the other came against the Rangers in New York Dec. 16...Vernon Fiddler suffered an upper body injury early in the third period in the Jan. 15 Anaheim game, and did not return.

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