There is a serious problem on the New York Rangers’ blue line. Certain players, like Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, are not holding their weight. The unit that was once described as perhaps the best in the NHL has fallen in disrepair. However, one defenseman is trying to pick up the slack, and that’s Keith Yandle.
Yandle was acquired in a trade at the 2015 trade deadline that sent Anthony Duclair, John Moore and a first-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes. After a less-than-stellar end of the season and playoff run for Yandle, the consensus was that the Rangers overspent in giving up a coveted prospect like Duclair.
This season, the 29-year-old defenseman is proving his worth to the Rangers organization. While the rest of the blue line struggles to find their footing, Yandle leads all defenseman in points with 19. That’s also good for fourth-best on the team as a whole. Only one of those points is a goal, but in the meantime, he’s leading the entire team with his 18 assists. Yandle was never a goal scorer with the Coyotes either, but he did rack up the assists in Arizona, much like he is doing now.
Looking even deeper into the analytics, Yandle shines again. Amongst defensemen that have played more than 20 games this season, Yandle has the best Corsi For percentage (ratio of on-ice shot attempts for and against) among Rangers defensemen at 51.55 percent, according to War-on-ice.com. The only defenseman that has a better percentage is Dylan McIlrath, and he’s only played 17 games. His Fenwick For percentage (Corsi For percentage factoring out blocked shots) is also highest among defenseman with 20-plus games played.
Perhaps the most noteworthy talent Yandle brings to the table is his ability to generate scoring chances. With the Rangers in an offensive funk, high-danger scoring chances are at a premium. On top of his 18 assists, Yandle also leads all Rangers defensemen with 20-plus games in Scoring Chances For percentage at 50.43 percent. While he’s on the ice, the Rangers are generating more scoring opportunities than their opponents. He’s also the leader in Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes, according to War-on-ice.com.
Those statistics all sound nice, but only matter if they are better than his teammates, and his competition. Thankfully, War-on-ice.com keeps track of that too. Yandle’s Corsi For per 60 minutes is 54.24, while is Corsi Against per 60 minutes is 50.98. Meanwhile, his teammates’ CF60 is 53.34 and CA60 is 55.24. He is outdoing his teammates in generating shots and preventing opponents shots. In addition, his competition’s CF60 is 53.75 and CA60 is 54.75. Not only is Yandle outplaying his teammates, but he is also outplaying the players he is playing against.
Finally, statistics aside, Yandle has looked like the best Rangers defenseman. His skating ability and speed are unmatched on the blue line. Against the Nashville Predators on Monday night, Yandle was able to control the puck through the neutral zone and start some rushes over the Nashville blue line. With his ability to move down the ice, Yandle can dish the puck off to forwards joining him in the rush who can put the puck in the back of the net. He’s not a “dump and chase” defenseman; he’s an active defenseman that wants to carry the puck over the blue line. Most of the time, this Alain Vigneault-coached Rangers team plays right into his wheelhouse.
Yandle has done enough to earn himself more time, and more money, in the Big Apple. Right now, he’s playing on the third defensive pairing with Kevin Klein, which has probably been the best duo of any for the Rangers. Perhaps he should see a lot more ice time, and maybe be paired with some of the struggling players to boost them up. Regardless, if Yandle keeps this type of play up, he may just save the Rangers blue line, and get himself paid in the process.