Keith Yandle is seventh in defensemen scoring with 29 points in 38 games. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
We knew Keith Yandle was a promising young offensive defenseman, but did we see this coming? The 24-year-old is leading the Phoenix Coyotes in scoring and has become the catalyst for their offense the same way Dustin Byfuglien has for Atlanta. Once Coyotes coach Dave Tippett discovered this, the game plan changed. Yandle gets the puck; Yandle runs the power play.
A 2005 fourth round draft pick (105th overall), Yandle made a huge splash in the Quebec League the ensuing season by posting 84 points in 66 games for Moncton and earning the Canadian League Defenseman of the Year award. From there, he needed just a season and a bit in the American League before making the jump to the Yotes. After that it was steady progress in the NHL, with seasons of 12, 30 and 41 points.
Fantasy owners know a third-year defenseman topping 40 points is pretty special. But what’s the upside? After all, just seven defensemen topped 50 points last campaign and we’re talking about the Phoenix Coyotes, a team where nobody made it to the 60-point mark in 2009-10 (trade acquisition Wojtek Wolski doesn’t count).
That being said, there is a problem with both those facts. One, the NHL is shifting in philosophy. Defensemen are once again becoming the focal point of the power play and leading the rush. This comes from a combination of the removal of the red line and a response to Mike Green’s breakout season two years ago. Not to mention all the talented young blueliners who are entering the league.
Secondly, the Coyotes have adapted to the fact Yandle has emerged as a smart hockey player with pinpoint passing precision. They see the Capitals and Green, the Thrashers and Byfuglien, the Red Wings and Nicklas Lidstrom, the Penguins and Kris Letang and they understand they can do the same thing with Yandle. The result has been 17 points in the past 14 games for Yandle, a run that is so rarely matched in Phoenix over the years it has to grab your attention.
One could suggest Shane Doan’s hot stretch (17 points in 13 games) is helping give Yandle a boost, but I think it’s the other way around. We can argue the chicken or the egg until the cows come home, but the bottom line is Yandle is on pace for 64 points. I think he’ll get to 60. He’s better than you think.
Milan Lucic is a great hockey player, but 80 points? No way. His stats are finally reverting to where they should be. With two points in his past nine games, his pace is now set at 59 points if he stays healthy. Lucic may eventually be a 70-point player, but I would have been shocked if it happened in 2010-11.
Patric Hornqvist fired an astounding 14 shots on goal Dec. 28, but was held pointless. That must have made him angry, because he has three points in the two games since (along with nine shots). The streaky 24-year-old is going to put a ton of points on the board over the next couple of weeks. Call it a hunch.
The most impressive player in the World Junior Championship has been Canada’s Brayden Schenn. But despite the dominating point totals, he’ll be more of a Mike Richards type (70 to 85 points) than a Steven Stamkos type (90 to 100-plus) at the NHL level…
Washington prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov has had a strong tournament for Russia that has included some clutch scoring. He is committed to playing in the Kontinental League in 2011-12, but that can be negotiated. The Caps will have a lot of trouble hanging onto Alexander Semin, so Kuznetsov would be a nice, cheap alternative. Expect him to produce at the NHL level sooner than you think.
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