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Fantasy: Yandle should spark Panthers power play

Defenseman addresses Florida's glaring weakness, could re-join elite

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Fantasy Insider

The Florida Panthers didn't waste much time addressing their biggest offseason need.

The Panthers acquired offensive defenseman Keith Yandle in a trade with the New York Rangers on Monday and signed him to a seven-year contract Friday. Yandle would have become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but is now in the Panthers' hands on a long-term basis.

The investment in Yandle, 29, shows the Panthers were willing to spend top dollar for a defenseman in his prime who can anchor their first power-play unit, a weak point of their lineup this season. Fantasy owners who recall Yandle's elite offensive years should be licking their chops because Florida's supporting cast could get him back to that level of performance.

Florida won the Atlantic Division this season despite ranking 23rd in the League in power-play conversion percentage (16.9). They were one of two teams, the other being the Vancouver Canucks, without a defenseman of at least 10 power-play points. The Panthers had two power-play goals on 15 opportunities in their Eastern Conference First Round loss to the New York Islanders in six games.

But their power play should be a different animal with Yandle setting the table.

Since 2010-11, Yandle has the second-most combined power-play points (129) behind Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators (140). This season, 22 of Yandle's 47 regular-season points (82 games) for the Rangers came on the power play. His 42 assists ranked eighth among NHL defensemen. His performance with the man-advantage was a bounce-back effort after he was held to three power-play points in 21 games in 2014-15 after being traded to the Rangers.

To put Yandle's fantasy value from his Arizona days into perspective, he had 41 points and 26 PPP in the 63 games he played with the Coyotes in 2014-15 prior to that trade. In 2013-14, Yandle finished tied for the most power-play points (31) among League defensemen, finishing 59th overall in Yahoo's year-end fantasy rankings, sixth among defensemen. He clearly took a step back fantasy-wise in his stint with the Rangers, but he remained relevant at 121st in Yahoo's rankings in 2015-16, 19th among defensemen.

Video: ARI@NYR: Yandle scores PPG on double deflection

Yandle is much more appealing in Florida than he was with the Rangers because he joins a deeper, more well-structured lineup with three strong lines, a 20-year-old franchise defenseman in Aaron Ekblad and a veteran goalie in Roberto Luongo, who had a throwback fantasy season in 2015-16 to prove he still belongs among the top 10 at his position.

It remains to be seen if the Panthers will roll with two defensemen on their first power-play unit in 2016-17, but you can almost guarantee Yandle will join top-line forwards Jaromir Jagr, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau in those prime situations. At even strength, he should be a top-pair defenseman for at least the early years of his new contract and also see time with Florida's underrated second line of Jussi Jokinen, Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith, each of whom scored at least 50 points this season.

Florida had two defensemen log more than two minutes per game on the power play, Ekblad (2:50) and pending UFA Brian Campbell (2:41). If Ekblad is bumped off the top power-play unit, it could have a slightly negative impact on his fantasy stock. That said, Ekblad is not a huge power-play producer (nine PPP in 78 games this season) to begin with and will still either share man-advantage minutes with Yandle or prowl the also-dangerous second unit with Jokinen, Trocheck, Smith and Nick Bjugstad.

Ekblad remains one of the top fantasy keeper-league defenseman options in the game. In his first two seasons, his 18 even-strength goals are tied for ninth among defensemen in the span.

If Ekblad and Yandle mesh well, there is always the chance they could become a strong power-play point pair for years to come, similar to what we've seen in recent seasons from Roman Josi and Shea Weber with the Nashville Predators, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov with the Montreal Canadiens and, once upon a time, Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson with the Coyotes.

Yandle, who was previously ranked 25th among defensemen when he was facing contract uncertainty, should now be targeted just outside the top 15 at the position. Fantasy owners should consider him in the tier just behind Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Weber. Landing Yandle outside the top 75 overall could make him a huge draft bargain with this change of scenery, especially if he returns to the top-10 realm of fantasy defensemen.

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