GLENDALE – New York Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle is expected to play his first game at Gila River Arena on Saturday night since being traded by the Coyotes last March.
“It’s going to be fun to see him again and I think it’s going to be fun for him to come here and play in this building again,” defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said.
Yandle played 558 regular-season games and 27 playoff games for the Coyotes before being sent to New York just before the trade deadline in the deal that brought forward Anthony Duclair to Arizona. Yandle ranks fourth on the Coyotes/Jets franchise list for points by a defenseman (311), fourth for assists by a defenseman (246), and sixth for goals by a defenseman (65).
Captain Shane Doan hopes Coyotes fans attending the game will give Yandle an “unbelievable” reception.
“He was the leading scorer of our team for a couple years, and he’s the reason we got into the playoffs one year and had some success - because he played so well down the stretch,” Doan said. “It should be incredible (on Saturday). I think he’s excited.”
Ekman-Larsson said Yandle helped him become the All-Star player he is today.
“He’s an offensive guy, too, so I tried to watch and learn a little bit from him,” said Ekman-Larsson, who played with Yandle, mostly on the power play, since breaking into the NHL in 2010-11. “He moves the puck so well and finds the lanes to get the puck to the net, and that’s what I try to do. I think he helped me a lot with that.”
Ekman-Larsson said it was “weird” to play against Yandle for the first time on Oct. 22 at Madison Square Garden. Yandle scored a goal in New York’s 4-1 win that night.
“When you play against him you have to keep an extra eye on him,” Ekman-Larsson said.
• Center Antoine Vermette skated briefly at Friday’s practice but will not play in Saturday’s game because of a nagging lower-body injury. He is expected to skate again on Saturday morning and Sunday before the team leaves for a two-game trip to southern California.
“When he feels like he can get out there and go full speed that’s when he’ll come back,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said.
• Defenseman Stefan Elliott practiced with teammates on Friday. Elliott has not been available to play the past few games because of an upper-body injury.
“I think he’s close,” Tippett said. “Whether he plays tomorrow, we’ll see.”
• New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist started Friday’s game at Colorado so it’s unclear if he’ll start again on Saturday at Gila River Arena.
Defenseman Klas Dahlbeck, a fellow Swede, scored the lone goal against Lundqvist on Oct. 22.
“That was a great feeling,” said Dahlbeck, who has three goals on his NHL resume. “Henrik is one of the superstars of Swedish hockey and might be the best goaltender we’ve had of all-time. He’s definitely one of those guys you look up to.”
• Goaltending Coach Jon Elkin, who is based in Toronto, was back in Arizona and worked with Mike Smith and Anders Lindback during the five-day break from games this week.
It was a visit planned before the season began.
“It’s always subject to change, but we sat down before the season started and went through the first three months,” Tippett said of Elkin’s schedule. “There’s a lot of different things that go into it, whether it’s home or on the road (and) where we think practice time is going to be the most valuable for him. We have a schedule set for him, but that’s always up for change.”
• Saturday’s game vs. the New York Rangers can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM – a recent change from the original radio schedule.