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Yandle signs seven-year contract with Panthers

Defenseman excited to join Florida, will be counted on to boost power play

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

BUFFALO -- Newly signed defenseman Keith Yandle is expected to play a significant role in boosting what has been a consistently ineffective Florida Panthers power play.

"The biggest thing is we're looking for a power-play guy and he's a big-time power-play guy," Florida coach Gerard Gallant said Friday.

Florida signed Yandle to a seven-year contract Thursday, three days after acquiring his negotiating rights from the New York Rangers. The contract is worth $44.45 million, an average annual value of $6.35 million.

The Panthers have finished 23rd in the NHL on the power play in each of the past two seasons under Gallant. They were 16.9 percent this season and 16.3 percent in 2014-15. Florida's power play was 30th at 10.0 percent in 2013-14, when Kevin Dineen and Peter Horachek were the coaches.

Yandle, 29, finished tied for 11th among NHL defensemen last season with 22 points on the power play. He was third with 29 power-play points in the 2014-15 season and tied for first with 31 in 2013-14.

Aaron Ekblad was the Panthers' top-scoring defenseman on the power play last season with nine points. Defenseman Brian Campbell, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, had eight.

"It's a big part of the game now, you can win or lose games [with it]," Yandle said. "Obviously I take pride in helping out on the power play. It's one of those things that they have the right guys who are big bodies in front of the net, they've got a lot of skill, and my job is to help everybody out and help out on the power play."

Yandle said his intention was to get to July 1, when he could become an unrestricted free agent, but he changed his mind after the Panthers acquired him in a trade with the Rangers.

"It showed that they believed in me and wanted to try to get something done," Yandle said. "I think when a team shows that type of faith in you, you want to be a part of something like that. For me it was just getting something together and both sides having a good idea of what we wanted. It was a fun couple of days. I'm excited to be a Panther."

Gallant wasn't ready to pigeon-hole Yandle into a specific role with a specific partner, other than to say he'd be a big part of the power play and would likely be used on the left point, where he can use his shot and vision to quarterback the top unit.

"Let him play his game," Gallant said. "Obviously coaches all [have] their rules about making sure you play good defensively, but we've got a skilled team, we're going to move the puck fast and we want to play a fast game. He suits that model good for our club, especially with Ekblad and [Michael] Matheson, some of those young kids."

Gallant didn't rule out Yandle playing with Ekblad, although Matheson is an option to be Ekblad's partner. That's how they finished last season.

The Panthers also have Dmitry Kulikov, Alex Petrovic and Jakub Kindl as options for their top two defense pairs with Yandle, Ekblad and Matheson.

"He's going to be a guy that's going to play over 20 minutes, 20-25 minutes a game for us, so he's going to play with a lot of different guys probably," Gallant said of Yandle. "Right now if you look at it, Ekblad, is he going to play with Matheson? We'll see how it works. We've done some different things. [Willie] Mitchell is not coming back, and then we don't have [Erik] Gudbranson (traded to the Vancouver Canucks). We'll see how things look in training camp and in the exhibition games to see who fits with who."

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