Fantasy Spin: Keith Yandle Signs with Panthers

When the New York Rangers overpaid and got robbed traded for Keith Yandle at the trade deadline during the 2014-15 season, trading away defenseman John Moore, dynamic top prospect Anthony Duclair and two high draft picks, he was supposed to be the piece that took their offense over the top and all the way to the Stanley Cup.

That didn’t happen and now the Rangers found themselves in a tight-cap situation and unable to retain the talented puck-moving rear guard who was coming off a five-year deal that paid him an AAV of $5.25 million.

The Rangers’ misfortune is now the Florida Panthers, and Yandle’s wallet, gain. After acquiring Yandle’s negotiating rights at the beginning of the week for a sixth round pick, and an additional fourth rounder because he signed, the Panthers have gone all-in on improving on their playoff appearance from last season and Yandle helps them go a long way with that. The Panthers now have the elite-level, dynamic puck-moving defenseman they have been pining for.

Yandle has long been known as one of the best offensive defensemen in the whole NHL. The 29-year-old American has 369 points in 661, good for a .56 point-per-game (PPG) average in his career. Since the 2007-08 season, Yandle has been a full-time player, playing the better part of eight seasons with the Arizona Coyotes before playing his last 103 games with the Blue Shirts.

In that time frame, there have been 103 defensemen that have played a minimum of 430 games. Among those players, Yandle ranks 16th in games played, seventh in total points, fourth in assists and is 11th in PPG.

Yandle’s biggest asset is his prowess on the power play, and that will greatly help the Panthers going forward. In the time frame mentioned above, Yandle is sixth in power-play points with 166 and gives Florida the PP quarterback they have been desperate for. Yandle has put up a minimum of 22 power-play points per season over his last three seasons, including a career-high 31 two seasons ago in Arizona.

Yandle has four seasons in his career with at least 20 power-play points and his 22 this season led the Rangers by more than double his closest defensive teammate. His 22 points on the man advantage were also three less than the whole Panthers’ defensive corps the entire season.

Offensively, the Panthers’ defense is led by last year’s Calder Trophy winner, Aaron Ekblad, who posted 36 points this season with nine on the PP. Ekblad is quickly developing into one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL and he is only just 20-years old. Having Yandle there will greatly help to take the offensive pressure off the youngster and allow him to develop his game.

The Panthers are a very defensively responsible team, a knock on Yandle in the past thanks to his combined minus-55 rating his last two seasons in the desert. However he rebounded with the Rangers, posting a plus-6 in his 21 games after the trade and a minus-4 in all 82 games with New York this year. The Florida system should help to shield him defensively with the pieces they have in place.

Yandle would have been the leading scorer from the Panthers’ blue line this season after posting 47 points, the fifth season of his career that he hit the 40-point mark, including two seasons breaking 50. Yandle will almost assuredly slot in next to Ekblad on the Panthers’ top defensive pairing next season, replacing the outgoing Brian Campbell, and will absolutely be running the top power-play unit that will once again feature Jaromir Jagr, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

His shooting numbers took a dip this season, posting only 160 shots after back-to-back 230-plus shot years. That could be attributed to many things, including injuries and a dip in minutes on the Rangers. Yandle averaged less than 20 minutes of ice time with the Rangers after averaging almost 23 minutes time on ice in his last six seasons with the Coyotes. Fantasy players can reasonably expect another 40-plus point, 200-shot season from Yandle with a minimum of 20 PPP. Do not be surprised to see him approach 50 points and 30 on the man advantage. He is easily a top-20 fantasy defenseman entering next season, so draft accordingly.