In 3 days, the Phoenix Coyotes' long offseason finally ends and the excitement of real hockey begins. When talking about excitement as it relates to the Coyotes, it's hard to not talk about the man who currently wears the number 3 in Sedona Red, Keith Yandle.
Yandle was the Coyotes' 4th round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 11, 2006 in Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings; scoring no points in 19:57 of work. He played in the team's next six games before being sent down to then AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage. In 2007-08, Yandle would start the season in San Antonio before a mid-December call up to the desert. Yandle would never go back. He played in 43 NHL games the rest of the season, scoring his first career goal in just his second game back with the main club. The goal was a perfect example of Yandle's great offensive instincts as he crashed down from the blue line to easily put in a rebound off the boards. He would ultimately score five goals and 12 points that season.
Starting with the 2008-09 season, Yandle became an NHL regular and has been one of the most productive defensemen in the league. To get a clear idea of Yandle's performance since the beginning of the 2008 season, here is a chart of the top 10 defensive scorers since that date:
The part of this chart that really stands out is Yandle's time on ice compared to his colleagues. He puts up impressive numbers while playing between 1:30-3:30 less per game than the other defenders on the list. It's a testament to Yandle's great feel for the offensive part of the game.
He's also one of the league's most durable players. In fact, he is one of only three defensemen who had played in every eligible game since the start of the 2009-10 season. The others are Francois Beauchemin and Jay Bouwmeester. Beauchemin and Bouwmeester were both traded in-season during this time and missed a game as a result. Therefore, Yandle is the only d-man to play in all 294 games since the 2009 season started.
Yandle is also one of the emotional leaders of the Coyotes, as evidenced by him being granted the "A" in the 2010 season. When Yandle is playing his best hockey, the Coyotes are usually winning. The problem for the Coyotes is getting Yandle to consistently play his best hockey. The defenseman will turn 27 this season, and should be entering his prime. If he can mature and play at his highest level all year long, the Coyotes should become a very dangerous team.