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No stopping Panthers' Keith Yandle, the NHL's quiet ironman

Keith Yandle’s professionalism and dedication to his playing streak were instilled in him by his salt-of-the-earth parents.

Keith Yandle isn’t playing for the streak and says he doesn’t suit up every night for the notoriety or the attention. It was just the way he was raised.

The Florida Panthers defenseman played his 738th consecutive contest Nov. 28 against Anaheim, adding to the longest active ironman streak in the league and passing former Florida blueliner Jay Bouwmeester for sixth placeon the all-time list.

In an odd twist, Andrew Cogliano was in the Ducks’ lineup opposite Yandle for Game 738. Cogliano was the NHL’s active leader in consecutive games played until his streak ended last January at 830 when he was suspended for two games. “You feel bad for him,” said Yandle when Cogliano’s streak came to a halt last season. “I know what type of guy he is. He brings it every single night, and you hate to see anybody lose a streak like that, especially for such a long one that he’s had. Definitely feel bad for him.”

Through 23 games of this season, Yandle led Florida rearguards with 21 points, including four goals. Since his rights were traded to the Panthers in 2016 and he signed a seven-year deal worth $6.35 million per season, he’s closing in on 200 consecutive games with Florida. “I’ve often pointed to my parents who went to work every single day and never complained about anything,” he said.

When Yandle grew up in the Boston area, his father, Bud, was a coach. “If my parents were sick or hurting a little bit, they went to work and showed me, my brother and my sister the right way to do things. There have been a few times where the decision to play came down to game time, but when it came down to it, I decided to grind it out.”

Yandle’s streak began early in his career with the Arizona (then Phoenix) Coyotes, who picked him in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. In his third NHL campaign, he took the ice against Edmonton March 26, 2009 and hasn’t missed a game since. Yandle sees the all-time NHL record of 964 consecutive games played by Doug Jarvis from 1975 to 1987 on the horizon, but naturally doesn’t make it the focus of his attention.

Good health permitting, Yandle will pass Craig Ramsay (776 games) into fifth place on the all-time list in late February. After that, it’s Cogliano midway through 2019-20. Then, Steve Larmer (884) and Garry Unger (914) are next up in the first half of 2020-21. The timeline to pass Jarvis for the all-time benchmark would be the fourth game of 2021-22, shortly after Yandle’s 35th birthday. He’s under contract with the Panthers through 2022-23.

Yandle’s Florida teammates are appreciative of the dedication not only to them, but to the game itself. At 32, he’s an important piece of what Florida is trying to accomplish. Not only does he show up to play every night, but he logs the most ice time at almost 23 minutes per game and has responsibilities on and off the ice. “He’s a very easy guy to play with,” said Alex Petrovic, a defensive partner of Yandle at times. “He communicates a lot on the ice and he’s an offensive guy who wants the puck. He makes your life easier. He is the kind of player you want in there every game. He’s prepared every night, comes into each game with a very business-like approach.”

Not only does Yandle remain Florida’s best defenseman, he’s a big part of a rapidly improving power play. “We’ve actually cut his minutes down a little on the penalty kill and in other situations because we know he’s our main power-play guy,” said coach Bob Boughner. “We don’t want to wear him out and make sure he’s the same player in Game 80 as he is in No. 15.”

When the season started, Yandle was quarterbacking the second unit as Florida experimented with five forwards on the top group. The Panthers got plenty of chances with that look but were not getting the results. The power-play goals started going in once Yandle went back to running the top unit. “He’s so reliable,” said center Jared McCann. “Few people know the game as well as he does, and we rely on him. He has been a rock for us all year and all the years I’ve been here.”

Boughner has had many things to worry about in his two seasons with the Panthers. Yandle, however, has not been one of those things. So, how nice is it for a coach to be able to count on having a high-impact player game in and game out? “Is there some wood over there for me to knock on?” Boughner said. “He’s so steady, a guy who is maintenance-free. Yandle gets himself ready for games and what he has to do physically. It’s great to have a guy like that.” – George Richards

WORLD JUNIOR TO WATCH

BOSTON BRUINS: One thing that could keep Urho Vaakanainenfrom representing Finland would be if Boston’s D-men keep dropping like flies. After almost making the Bruins out of camp, Vaakanainen has impressed in the AHL. He has a gold and silver from Finland’s under-18 team.

BUFFALO SABRES: The Finns were a disappointment in 2018, and goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was part of that, but he has responded nicely after moving to Sudbury. He was among OHL leaders in GAA and save percentage. He was on the under-18 all-star team in 2016, leading Finland to gold.

CAROLINA HURRICANES: An excellent playmaker who pushes the pace, Martin Necaswill be one of the most dangerous centers in the WJC as he tries to direct the Czech Republic back to the semifinal – or even further. He made magic with Filip Zadina last year. Why not go for an encore?

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: With his combination of size and skill, Kirill Marchenko is a perfect fit for Russia’s roster, and he was given a top-line spot in November when he played in a tune-up Four Nations tourney. Back home, Marchenko has been ripping it up for St. Petersburg’s junior team, SKA-1946.

DETROIT RED WINGS: Although he struggled in the Swedish men’s league, Jonatan Berggren has been dominant in his own age group. He was the best player at the world under-18s last spring and tore up Sweden’s under-20 league. The Wings got him at No. 33 despite his first-round credentials.

FLORIDA PANTHERS: After going home to play rather than return to Swift Current where he scored 118 points last season, Aleksi Heponiemi is putting up great stats for a first-place Karpat team. Heponiemi will be relied upon to provide Finland with offense and rebound from a terrible showing in 2018.

MONTREAL CANADIENS: Ryan Poehling will turn 20 two days before the WJC ends. A veteran of last year’s bronze-winning squad for Team USA, Poehling will be counted upon to provide leadership and two-way play. The junior at St. Cloud State could join the Habs after his NCAA season ends.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: It’s been a chaotic year for big goalie Akira Schmid, now in his third North American junior league. He started in WHL Lethbridge, went to NAHL Corpus Christi and now has a home with USHL Omaha. Switzerland will need him to take on a heavy workload, but that’s old hat for him.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: While his Titan are nursing a championship hangover, Noah Dobson'stalens as a blueliner are beyond doubt. His combination of skating and puck skills would make him a welcome addition on Canada’s blueline. At the World Junior Summer Showcase, Dobson was a top goal-scorer.

NEW YORK RANGERS: Despite his freshman status, defenseman K’Andre Miller has been a big driver at Wisconsin, where the first-rounder is one of the top scorers and a threat on the power play. He will have to push for a slot on Team USA, but his two-way game and athleticism give him an opportunity.

OTTAWA SENATORS: After starting last season and this season with the Senators, Alex Formenton returned to junior and is sure to be a force with the London Knights. As one of the returnees from last year’s gold-medal winning Canadian team, Formenton brings skill and speed to the lineup.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: He had success with Jack Hughes last year at the U.S. NTDP, and maybe Joel Farabee can hook up with his friend again at the world juniors. Farabee is a talented left winger with a great motor who has put up good numbers as a freshman at Boston University.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Filip Hallander helped Timra earn promotion to the SHL, and now he has a chance to help his country at the WJC. The versatile two-way center has been a frequent member of Sweden’s national teams, including an under-17 gold in 2016. He’s been up against men as an 18-year-old.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: One of the last players chosen in the 2018 draft, defenseman Radim Salda made the all-rookie team in the QMJHL last season but was dealt from St. John to Rimouski so the Sea Dogs could load up for the 2019 draft. The Czechs will be counting on the 2018 returnee to provide offense.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: The Leafs have a keen interest in Sweden’s blueline, with first-rounders Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin as the top two D-men. With a silver medal in last year’s WJC and a Calder Cup on his resume, Liljegren will provide the Swedes with a solid two-way presence.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS: His draft season was difficult, but Alexander Alexeyev's potential was never in question. The 2018 first-rounder has been a top-scoring blueliner in the WHL and played two games at the Canada-Russia Series. With his size, skating and two-way game, there is lots of upside.

This story appears in the January 28, 2019 of The Hockey News magazine.

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