Wisdom, perspective put Keith Yandle in happy place in South Florida

Jan 23, 2017, 6:00 AM | Updated: 7:18 pm
Colorado Avalanche right wing Rene Bourque, left, uses his stick to block a shot by Florida Panther...

Colorado Avalanche right wing Rene Bourque, left, uses his stick to block a shot by Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle in the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — When the Coyotes traded Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers at the 2015 trade deadline, he was still a sheltered pup, a guy who had played the first eight-plus years of his NHL career in a market low on pressure.

“You feel like you almost grew up here,” Yandle, 30, said Sunday after his new team, the Florida Panthers, practiced at Gila River Arena before their game against the Coyotes on Monday. “It’s kind of where I started my life, almost. Up until you’re 18, you’re told what to do.”

That all changed when he wound up on the other end of the hockey market continuum.

“I think it did, especially going to New York where it was a whole different world from being in Arizona,” he said. “I got so comfortable here and it kind of got me out of my comfort zone and it’s something that helps build you as a person.”

Greater wisdom, perspective and confidence are serving Yandle well in his first season with the Panthers. He is second among all Panthers in ice time per game at 22:16 (Aaron Ekblad leads at 22:27), he is first among Panthers defensemen in scoring with 23 points (20 assists), he has been an effective, second-unit penalty killer (yes, penalty killer) for the Panthers and he has assumed a place of prominence on a team where he is one of just six players 30 or older, with ageless Jaromir Jagr (45 on Feb. 15) at the high end.

“He’s fit in terrific,” Panthers coach Tom Rowe said. “He’s such a positive influence on our young guys and our locker room in general. He doesn’t wear a letter but he’s certainly one of the key leaders in the locker room.”

The Panthers acquired Yandle’s negotiating rights from the Rangers in June for a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a 2017 conditional fourth-round pick. That obvious desire for his services convinced Yandle to sign a seven-year, $44.45 million deal without all the wining and dining the Coyotes threw at Alex Goligoski when they acquired his rights.

“I’m an easy first date,” Yandle quipped.

Rowe said it was an easy decision for the Panthers, too.

“We targeted him as our No. 1 free-agent signing because we thought he really complemented the forwards that we had,” Rowe said. “We figured if he could get the puck up to them and get the rush going it would create more offense. That’s what we were looking for. He’s on target, doing what we thought he could do.”

Yandle admits it was easy for him, his wife, Kristyn, and his daughters, Lola and Mila, to settle into the south Florida life. Before the Panthers departed on this four-game road trip, the weather had been in the 80s and the family was spending time in the swimming pool of their ocean-side home.

“Ft. Lauderdale is a great place to live,” he said.

This is just Yandle’s second game back to Arizona since that 2015 trade, but he talks to good friend Shane Doan “all the time” and wishes him well as Doan ponders whether to waive his no-move clause and pursue a Stanley Cup with another team.

“Whether he stays or goes, any team is lucky to have him,” said Yandle, who has played in 599 consecutive games, the second longest active streak in the NHL.

Although he is not familiar with many of the young players on the Coyotes roster, Yandle expressed faith that coach Dave Tippett could shepherd them through the learning process.

“He knows how to run a team and take care of business and he’s always going to have his team ready,” Yandle said.

With a couple seasons of perspective, Yandle reflects back on his time in Arizona as “all positive,” but he also took some lessons from the mentors he had here.

“One of those things I learned here from Doaner is never be satisfied and never stop trying to get better,” he said. “You’re dealing with a guy like Jags around and you see the work he puts in. If you ever do get complacent, that’s when the game can be taken from you. I love this game so much. I want to be a part of it. To be a part of the NHL, it’s the best thing in the world.”

Yandle admits it is odd to think of himself as one of the oldest veterans on Florida’s roster, but it’s more a numerical fact than a feeling.

“I know I look a little old but I feel young,” he said. “It’s hard not to feel young playing a game as your job. My kids keep me young; my wife keeps me young. Coming to the rink every day and playing a game and being around a bunch of big kids, it’s the best.”

And Jagr?

“He makes me feel really young.”

Panthers at Coyotes

When: 7 p.m., Monday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Records: Coyotes — 14-26-6. Panthers — 20-19-9.

Injury report: Coyotes — C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is out indefinitely. LW Max Domi (hand) is week to week. RW Jordan Martinook (upper body) is day to day. Panthers — C Aleksander Barkov (upper body) and LW Jonathan Huberdeau (Achilles) are on IR and out indefinitely. D Alex Petrovic (IR, ankle) is week to week. C Nick Bjugstad (IR, groin injury) is day to day.

Scouting the Panthers: Florida won the Atlantic Division last season but fired coach Gerard Gallant, a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year in 2015-16, after an 11-10-1 start … The Panthers are 0-2-1 on this four-game road trip … C Vincent Trocheck leads Florida in goals (17), points (32), and is averaging the most ice time among Florida’s forwards (21:40) and the third-most among all NHL forwards behind Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler … G Roberto Luongo is tied for 11th in NHL save percentage at .921 … The Panthers are tied for the most overtime/shootout losses in the NHL at nine.

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Wisdom, perspective put Keith Yandle in happy place in South Florida