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Yandle of Panthers on course to play 1,000th NHL game Sunday

Defenseman 'enjoying every minute' of road to milestone

by Alain Poupart / Independent Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Keith Yandle is on track to play his 1,000th NHL game Sunday, approaching a milestone he said he never really pondered.

"I'm lucky every day just to be playing in the NHL and calling this a job," the Florida Panthers defenseman said Friday. "Never really had the goal, never really thought I'd even make it to the NHL, so it's kind of one of those things where I'm just enjoying the ride and enjoying every minute of it."

Yandle is set to reach the milestone when the Panthers visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-F, NHL.TV). The 34-year-old had two assists in the Panthers' 6-2 win against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. 

Yandle said he would be better able to describe the significance of the milestone after reaching it.

"I've always kind of lived my life one day at a time and not really tried to think about stuff too far in advance," he said. "For me, I'm just kind of worried about Nashville, getting ready for that game."

Yandle is in his fifth season with the Panthers, with whom he signed a seven-year contract June 23, 2016, three days after they acquired him in a trade with the New York Rangers.

When he reaches 1,000 games, Yandle will have played 339 games with the Panthers after 558 with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes and 103 with the Rangers.

"Incredible," said defenseman Aaron Ekblad, one of four Panthers, along with center Aleksander Barkov, forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, who were on the roster when Yandle arrived. "Truly incredible. We've had some great memories together here since he started playing here and hopefully we can keep him going and hopefully he can play 1,500 games. We love the guy here in this room and we're happy to see him do it, no doubt about it."

Yandle also is extending the third-longest ironman streak in NHL history.

The win Saturday at Nashville was his 889th consecutive NHL game, which trails only Doug Jarvis (964) and Garry Unger (914).

The ironman streak began March 26, 2009, a little less than 2 1/2 years after he made his NHL debut for the Coyotes against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 11, 2006.

"He's really a true pro and it's fun to see him doing this well," Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas said, "and even still after all these years he's still a positive guy that has a lot of things to give the team."

Yandle has scored 589 points (102 goals, 487 assists) in 15 NHL seasons, and 34 points (six goals, 28 assists) in 55 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He has scored 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 23 games this season. 

"When I first got in the League, there were a lot of older guys, the League was older and a lot of veteran guys around that really helped me out," he said. "For me, it's just taking pride in being a good veteran, being able to help guys out, whether it's on the ice or off the ice and being a good teammate, because I had a lot of guys that helped me along the way."

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