Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle’s legacy as the NHL’s best teammate continues to follow him from city to city
“He might be everyone’s favorite teammate they’ve ever had,” said former Coyotes teammate Shane Doan.
When the Florida Panthers announced that they were going to scratch defenseman Keith Yandle early last season and end his Ironman streak, his teammates and players around the league protested.
“The fact that all of his teammates in Florida went crazy when there was a chance that they were going to end it, that doesn’t happen for anybody,” said Shane Doan, Yandle’s former captain with the Arizona Coyotes, and current Coyotes chief hockey development officer. “Like, if the coach makes a decision to take you out or the GM makes a decision to take you out, the team doesn’t rally around you. That’s not a normal reaction. They might be mad, there might be a few guys that are upset but they don’t rally around like what they did with him.”
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While Yandle, who has played 929 consecutive games, said he tries to take things day by day rather than think about the streak, it’s something hockey players around the NHL admire him highly for. But that respect goes way beyond the streak itself. Yandle earned it with who he is as a friend, a teammate, an athlete and a leader. Doan would go so far as to say “he might be everyone’s favorite teammate they’ve ever had.”
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault is another who can’t say enough good things about Yandle. “And where I think he is going to be real good for our group is Yan is one of the best team guys I’ve ever coached. And anybody that’s been associated with him would say the same thing.”
For those who haven’t played with Yandle, his athleticism is the first thing that strikes opponents. Derick Brassard, who played with Yandle for the New York Rangers between 2014-16 and reunited with him this season on the Flyers, remembers seeing him play junior hockey in Quebec and being impressed with how dominant he was offensively.
Aaron Ekblad, captain of the Florida Panthers and one of Yandle’s former defensive partners, also remembers seeing Yandle as a “young gun.” Once they became teammates, Ekblad found Yandle to be a “positive reinforcement in all three zones.” And his ability as a passer was “second to none.”
Doan, who is 10 years Yandle’s senior, said his athleticism is something Flyers fans won’t truly appreciate now that he is 35. The focus is often about his streak or his high character, often overshadowing what an elite athlete Yandle is.
Yandle is among the top-two athletes Doan played with during his 21-year career, Doan said. He clearly remembers how far in front Yandle was whenever they had to do sprints. The distance between Yandle and second place would be the same as the distance between first place and last.
“He just floats on top of the ice,” Doan said.
His athleticism isn’t contained to the ice, either. He’s a great basketball and baseball player — and he can dance.
“He used to dance after every win for all of us in his skates,” Doan said. “His thing was ‘Teach me how to Dougie.’”
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Dancing is just one of the ways Yandle has kept it light in the locker room. His reputation as an offensive defenseman and elite power-play quarterback is equaled by his reputation as the funniest player in the league.
Like a comedian, Yandle can get away with a bit more because of his reputation, Doan said. He has the unique talent of walking the line of “appropriately inappropriate,” and his ability to read the room is unparalleled.
“At the end of the day, he’s there as a teammate, as a friend, to always build you up and to make you feel better than you ultimately would have felt that day,” Ekblad said.
Ekblad was Yandle’s teammate when his streak was in danger of ending last season. Ekblad said Yandle’s streak was highly respected among his teammates, especially because it inspired them. He vividly remembers Yandle losing nine teeth after being struck by a puck and then returning for the next game two days later.
“It’s an unbelievable lesson for all of us to persevere,” Ekblad said. “And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
That was just one lesson that Yandle’s teammates have learned from him. Doan said Yandle is the type of player who teams benefit from long after he leaves because he shows you “how you should be.” Ekblad confirmed that, saying Yandle has something to offer and teach “to all the team, all the time.”
Yandle attributes that to the leaders he learned from as a young player, Doan among them. He remembers how Doan and the others would buy him dinner, give him rides and show him around.
Doan attributes it to Yandle’s genuine respect and love for other human beings.
“The best way to be respected, is to give it away, and to give your respect to those around you and he respects people so well with his ability to hone in on them and give them, give people his undivided attention, that then people feel like they respect him for the way that he’s showing them the respect,” Doan said.
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Yandle has quickly found a home in the Flyers locker room. He was already good friends with Kevin Hayes and Brassard. Brassard said he is glad to have Yandle back on his team, as during a long season of ups and downs, Yandle’s humor helps keep the team positive.
“He’s a guy that everyone’s going to want to say hi to after the game, everyone’s going to make sure that they go find him,” Doan said. “He’s going to make sure that he finds them. Trust me, he wants to beat them and they want to beat him. Like, that’s who he is and he’ll tease him if he does, and they’ll tease him if he doesn’t, and he would want it that way.”