The Florida Panthers’ most reliable source of offensive chances this season has come from their back line.
Veteran defenseman Keith Yandle, in his third season with the Panthers and 13th NHL season overall, has been a steady point producer during the early going of the season.
Just how good has he been? Yandle has not only recorded at least one point — which is earned by either scoring a goal or assisting on one — in all but two of the Panthers’ first 11 games this season, he also ranks in the top 10 in the league among defensemen in a slew of offensive categories.
“He’s taking charge,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “His assets are obviously the way he can pass the puck and see the ice offensively.”
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Yandle’s versatility and ability to fuel the offense will be critical as the Panthers begin a three-game homestand at the BB&T Center on Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers. The Panthers (3-5-3, 9 points) are about to begin a stretch in which they play 14 games in 24 days, a stretch the Panthers hope will get them out of their early-season rut in which they recorded an NHL-low nine points during their first 11 games and have been outscored 41-34.
“I know for me, I’d rather play than practice,” Yandle. said “It’s what you’re here for: To play games. We love playing. When you’re playing every other night, you don’t have time to think too much.”
The Panthers likely don’t want Yandle to think too much either if it means seeing the production he has already created this year.
Heading into Wednesday’s slate of games, Yandle ranked fifth among defensemen while averaging a career-best 1.09 points per game. His team-leading nine assists are tied for 10th among blue line players.
Boughner noted that he has seen Yandle begin to flourish after the coaching staff moved him down to the second line with Alex Petrovic
“I think it allows Yandle maybe to sort of be freed up a little,” Boughner said. “Don’t worry about having to be a shut-down guy every night, although we still want him to be aware and be good defensively with his details. Maybe mentally it helps him a little bit.”
But Yandle’s strength as of late is coming on the power play. When the Panthers are in a man-up situation, Yandle has thrived. He leads NHL defensemen with five power-play points and is one of five defensemen with multiple power-play goals so far this season. He tallied three points (2 goals, 1 assists) during the power play in the Panthers’ two-game Global Series matchup against the Winnipeg Jets in Helsinki, Finland, last week.
“Being on the top of the power play, it’s a responsibility to be that quarterback. He’s doing a great job of it,” Boughner said. “It’s a lot of deception out there, too. He’s looking one way and passing the other. He knows when to shoot and when to pass. He’s done a real good job of just getting his puck through at the right time.”
Yandle added: “Probably the best power plays are the shooting power plays. I think penalty kills are so good nowadays with all the video and stuff. You know what teams like to do and you know what they’re going to do. When you can catch them by surprise a little bit and get second opportunities at the net, that’s when things go good.”