Keith Yandle Emerging on The Rangers Blue Line

NHL Playoffs, NHL, Jay Beagle, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers
Jay Beagle’s goal in the Capitals 1-0 win over New York handed the Rangers an NHL playoff record. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

When Keith Yandle was brought in at the trade deadline, he was expected to provide extra offense from the back-end, and help the Rangers overwhelm teams in the post-season. Heading into Game 6 of the Conference Finals, Yandle has been streaky, but has been more effective as of late.

Getting Offensive

In the last 3 games of the Conference Finals, Yandle has posted 5 points and fired 9 shots on net. The smooth skating defenseman has been slick on breakouts, often finding his teammates up the ice, and he has been calm at the point despite the blazing speed of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Below is a great example of Yandle staying calm at the point.

You can see above that the clock is winding down in-game 3, Yandle has the puck and a defender coming out to him. Yandle fakes the shot, then looks to the other point, as though he’s going to pass. As a result the defender moves out of the shooting lane, which allows Yandle to get the puck through. If Yandle just fires the shot off the pass, the puck likely gets blocked.

Over the past 2 games Yandle has seen increased ice time. He has been averaging 17:52 per game throughout the playoffs, but in games 4 and 5 he has played 18:16 and 23:13 respectively. When asked about what he has seen from Keith Yandle as of late, Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault told the media,

He’s working extremely hard. He’s trying to make some plays. Obviously, you know, with the pressure sometimes our D are under, it’s  a little bit more challenging to make the right play. But he’s got the right idea, and we need him tonight to find a way to get a couple more pucks to the net, and we’ll be in good shape.

The Rangers have relied heavily on their defense to create offense this post-season. The Rangers have 3 defencemen in their top 10 in scoring, all tied with 9 points. Center Derek Stepan currently leads the team with 12. This shouldn’t shock anyone as the Rangers love to get the puck out to the points to spread out the defense. This has given Keith Yandle success, because it allows him to move with the puck and place his shots, rather than just try to keep the boards to maintain possession when the other team attempts to clear.

Yandle’s 9 points tie him for 4th on the Rangers in scoring, and he is a +5 which is currently the best on the team.

Poor Decisions

Yandle can look like a game breaker one shift, and follow it up with a silly error on his next. Any one who watched game 5, will remember the play below.

This is the kind of mistake that makes you spit your coffee all over your living room. Often times when people talk about Keith Yandle they will use the term high risk high reward. But people who watch him play, will often tell you otherwise.  The reason I selected this clip is to show that sometimes his plays are high risk no reward. This is why some fans are hesitant to jump on the Yandle bandwagon.

Pierre McGuire talked about Keith Yandle and his time with the New York Rangers on TSN 1050 “He had a real good game number four, probably his best as a Ranger, but he sometimes looks like a deer in the headlights, he really has, he looks almost like the moment has overwhelmed him from time to time being in New York, playing for the Rangers, and being on the big stage.” McGuire went on to talk about trades having an impact on players, “sometimes it takes a bit longer, Yandle still has a high skill level and  an ability to play, it’s just sometimes it takes a little longer to transition. Especially if you’ve never been traded before and he had never been traded before, sometimes a lot of things go into it.”

Advanced Stats Show Yandle Pushing the Rangers Forward

I am not what you would call “an advanced stats guru” but I do think they help illustrate a story. That being said I will mention that, Yandle is currently second on the Rangers in terms of Corsi (Shot attempts for subtracted by Shot attempts against) with a +35. This measurement is usually a good indicator of who is helping their team possess the puck when on the ice. The only player on the team with a better Corsi rating than Keith Yandle, is Dan Boyle, who has a 52.

My Take

I would say that Keith Yandle has been up and down since being traded, but in the post-season he has been doing what you’d expect him to do. He’s been mobile with the puck, and distributed it up the ice well. In his own zone he has been streaky, sometimes he makes a great play and clears the puck and other times he sets up Steven Stamkos on the door step. His play is sometimes wild in his own end,  but I would say he has taken some strides to be better in this area. I notice that he has a very active stick, and he seems like he is more committed to playing the body to separate the man from the puck, whereas in the regular season, he would go for a clean poke check to move the puck right out.

Below is a video of Yandle making a great read and finishing a clean hip check on Brian Boyle.

In the offensive zone Yandle has shown poise with the puck, has jumped into the play at good times, and has really shown some slick passing ability. He has been improving with every game and if the Rangers live to fight in a game 7, it will be because Keith Yandle was solid for all of game 6.