Keith Yandle Becomes a Single Oasis in the Desert
By Alan Bass
With all the financial and legal problems going on in the desert, there hasn’t been too much to gloat about in Phoenix.
But, with 23-year-old defenceman Keith Yandle continuing to improve, Coyotes fans could very well find themselves cheering on a nightly basis.
“He is just now evolving into the player that he is going to be for the next few years,” Coyotes GM Don Maloney said. “I thought Keith, last season, was one of the few players who showed improvement.”
As a young player in the Quebec Major Junior League, Yandle put up 84 points in 66 games with the Moncton Wildcats, in addition to an intriguing 109 penalty minutes. Yandle showed that he was an exceptionally talented offensive defenceman, one that could put up points with ease.
In fact, Yandle impressed so many people, he was awarded the Emile Bouchard Trophy as the QMJHL’s top defenceman in 2005-06.
“It was big for me, especially going into a different league and country,” said Yandle. “It was great, just getting my name out there and getting recognized for all the hard work I put in. It helped me get to the next level and make the jump. It meant a lot to me.”
He spent the next year in the American League with the San Antonio Rampage, scoring 33 points in 69 games. When he finally reached the NHL, Yandle put up 44 points in his first 119 games.
However, many people, including Maloney thought that Yandle was sacrificing defensive positioning in order to put up numbers.
“A lot of those offensive-minded players are like that,” Maloney said. “So I think you want to be able to play him on the ice in those tight games when the games are close.”
But in the last few years, Maloney and the rest of the Coyotes staff have seen an incredible change in Yandle.
“There’s much more maturity in his game,” Maloney said. “Two years ago, he wouldn’t see the ice in the last six or seven minutes of a tight game, where now, we have much more confidence in him.”
With all of the legal problems in Phoenix over the past months, and with the legendary Wayne Gretzky stepping down as head coach, many worried that Yandle’s development would be stunted. But contrary to popular belief, he did not miss a beat.
“[Gretzky] was a great coach, he taught us a lot. He helped me out a lot. I have nothing but good things to say about him and what he did for me,” Yandle said. “But it’s been awesome. We’ve been winning some games and so it’s great. [Tippett] is definitely a great coach. He has a great system. Guys are buying into it, and if we play the way he wants us to play, we’re going to be good and teams are going to recognize us.”
On Yandle's game Maloney says the more teaching, the more time spent on Keith’s game without the puck, he'll improve. "He has God-given natural skill, skating, offensive play... What I saw of Keith was just him maturing into a player you’re not afraid to put out in the last five minutes of a game. He’s become much more competitive and reliable when the game is on the line. He is still evolving into a great defenceman, I think his best years are still ahead of him.”
Looking forward, Maloney and the rest of the Coyotes organization are extremely optimistic.
“We’re confident he is going to evolve into a good player for us who will help us win here,” Maloney said. “He has a great personality, is well liked in the locker room, and there’s a real upside to that.”
And Yandle knows that he won’t stay on the game roster automatically.
“How do you stay in the NHL? Hard work, winning one-on-one battles and just playing solid hockey. A bunch of little things, but you have to work hard, both during the games and in practice.”