You can only ignore text messages and tweets from Dave Shapiro for so long. I knew if I didn’t get off my rear, dust off my laptop, and start typing again, next thing I’d know Dave would be lurking outside my window Quagmire style.
Anyhow, the Blueshirts season is three games old and already narratives are being expounded about the Rangers defense, mostly in the form of demeaning Dan Girardi and pleading for Dylan McIlrath. And while the defense is certainly the area of the roster to keep tabs on while the season unfolds, the player I’ll be zoning in on is Keith Yandle.
The Rangers haven’t had an elite offensive defensemen since Brian Leetch. Many have tried to fill his skates over the last 15 years (e.g., Tom Poti, Wade Redden, Michael Del Zotto, etc.), but none have succeeded. While Yandle isn’t Leetch, having a d-man with his pedigree shouldn’t be overlooked for several reasons.
1) He’s A Potential Long-term Solution For The Power Play
Dan Boyle was brought in to help the power play, but in reality, he hasn’t been a special teams force in years. Even if he was still capable QB’ing, he’s 39 and likely won’t be on the roster come July. Yandle can be that guy for years to come — assuming he is resigned.
The Rangers haven’t had an elite power play in about as long as I can remember. Meanwhile, Yandle put up over 25 power play points in each of the last two years, which is impressive considering he was dishing to a Coyote team that couldn’t score in a brothel.
2) He Brings Dynamism To The Blueline
The Rangers were a mediocre puck possession team last year (ranked 20th in the NHL in shot attempts % close). This was despite having a coach who preaches puck possession as a philosophy and designs tactics to achieve it (more on this in my next post). Part of this issue was the lack of dynamic defensemen.
Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a team in this league that wouldn’t love to have Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, or even Dylan McIlrath (if he fulfills his potential). The problem is, all of these defensemen more or less have the same skill set. They are good in their own end, but making plays just inside the offensive zone blueline or pushing the play north is not their forte.
Yandle is that guy. Check out these gifs below.
That’s elite skating and stick handling.
In six years with the Yotes, he had a sub 50 shot attempt % once. He cracked 50 points three times. Not bad considering the Yotes strategy for survival for his entire career there was to get an early goal and turtle for 60 mins.
3) He Fits The System
Over the past two years, the Rangers have really remade their forward lines to suit AV’s counter attack style. However, the defense still lacks the think speed and the wheels to really perfect AV’s man-on-man defensive zone system.
Ryan McDonagh was able to make the switch from playing a zone defense to man-on-man pretty easily. Staal took a while to come around, but has more or less gotten it. Klein is a coin flip and struggles for consistency. Boyle is too small and his skating too suspect to really be able to stick to his marker. Girardi is a tire fire. McIlrath would probably be better off in a zone system, but we’ll see how that goes.
While Yandle grew up in a zone defense system in Arizona and struggled when he first arrived in Manhattan, he started to come around in the playoffs. His instincts and his mobility are just too good for him to not be able to make the switch. Here’s a good example of him being able to stick with his check (Panirin) in the corner.
In the end, the Rangers will likely have to get creative with the amount of resources they dedicate to their defense this offseason. However, if Yandle keeps up his form and hits on these three areas of play I’ve outlined, then re-upping him should be a priority, even if that comes at the expense of other players.