Keith Yandle was the Rangers big acquisition at the trade deadline last season. Now having gotten his feet wet with the team it’s fair to say that the organization will expect more out of the 28-year-old defenseman. He’s an unrestricted-free-agent at the end of the year, and Larry Brooks of the New York Post explains that it’s unlikely the defender re-signs with the team. Brooks cites the Rangers salary cap issues as being the main factor. While he raises a sound point, I have to believe that the club has big plans for the rear-guard this season, and if he’s able to produce he will force the Rangers to give him a new contract.
Sparking the Offense
The Rangers moved on from Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin over the off-season, so Yandle will face more pressure to produce on offense. He was brought in last year to put the Rangers over-the-top as a defender who could move the puck and help on the power-play. As the playoffs drew on, he lost his spot running the first power-play unit to veteran defender Dan Boyle.
For the upcoming season, it seems like the Rangers will hand Yandle the keys to the power-play. If you look at his power-play numbers he was ranked third in the NHL with 29 points behind only Erik Karlsson and Mark Streit who each had 30. A fresh start should help the rear-guard and allow him to be the force he typically is with the man advantage.
What pops out to me about the defender is his ability, and poise with the puck. He’s a smooth skater and he uses his mobility to open up options in the neutral and offensive zones.
Yandle had 11 points in 19 post-season contests with the Rangers, and to me he seemed to get better every game. Last year the defender posted 52 points in 84 regular-season games which was good for 10th in the NHL in scoring from a defender. Since the 2010-2011 season number 93 has recorded 237 points in 378 games. Ryan McDonagh (who’s widely considered the Rangers best defender) has recorded 136 points in 317 regular season games. I’m not trying to say that Yandle is a better player than McDonagh, I simply thought this stat would help illustrate how effective Yandle can be on offense.
Taking on a Bigger Role
Last season Yandle was locked in on the Rangers third pairing, but I see him moving up to the second unit this year. Boyle will be a free agent after this season which means the Rangers will be in desperate need of another puck-mover. I expect the Rangers to start working Yandle into a role as the main offensive-defenseman; while putting Boyle in a smaller role. Boyle took some ice-time from Yandle last season in the playoffs, but that was in a “must-win” situation. Now with a new season the Rangers will ride the younger player, because he has more upside.
The interesting thing about the Rangers defense, is how loaded it is on the left-side. Yandle seemed to be competing with Staal for ice-time; it was a battle where Staal consistently had the advantage. I would rank Yandle ahead of Boyle and Kevin Klein in terms of over-all skill, but because the Rangers have remained committed to keeping left-handed and right-handed defenders together, he has ended up on the last pairing. You could put him on a unit with Staal, but that might pose a problem with keeping the puck in the zone when it’s rimmed around the boards, as someone would be on their offside. The other option would be to put him and Klein up on the second pairing and bring down Staal and Boyle.
If the Rangers are going to get 50 or more points out of Yandle, then they will need to put him in a situation where he can score. Part of the reason that he was so good in Arizona was that he was constantly deployed.
When you look at the Rangers back-end you notice that they have six very strong defenders which is a great thing for a team, but the issue becomes, allotting the appropriate amount of ice-time for the players to be successful. The players simply don’t have the amount of time necessary to put up the numbers, and engage in games.
It’s unlikely that the Rangers re-sign Boyle after this season, simply because of his age; and it’s hard for me to imagine the Rangers loosing both Boyle and Yandle this off-season as that would turn one of the teams great strengths, into something of a weakness. If he really isn’t good then maybe they move on, but after a good pre-season I think he will have a strong year.
Yandle has been a subject of trade rumors, but Darren Dreger (who is a credible source) says otherwise.
The NYR have no plans of trading Keith Yandle. He is key to a very strong blue line and the Rangers believe he will be a key element next yr.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) July 1, 2015