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Yandle will get to strut stuff on All-Star stage

by Mike G. Morreale
Social media guru Paul Bissonnette of the Phoenix Coyotes can describe defenseman Keith Yandle in one word: Gross.
"Because it's amazing how every day you see the plays he's making on the line … it's gross," Bissonnette told "He's still young, he's got game, he's got that swagger. Every day he does things like (Washington Capitals defenseman) Mike Green. If he played on a team where he had more offensive talent -- we have a very defensive-minded team -- it would be fun to watch. If he makes the All-Star team you'll see it, him wheel and deal."
Bissonnette got his wish on Tuesday when Yandle was added to the roster of players set to perform at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover on Sunday. It will mark his first All-Star Game appearance.
Regardless of whether Yandle got the nod, the 24-year-old defender is certainly the real deal.
The native of Boston came at quite a bargain too, as the Coyotes got him in the fourth round (No. 105) of the 2005 Entry Draft. He's currently sixth among all defensemen in the League and first on his team in scoring with 40 points, 7 goals and 33 assists.
He logs a team-high 24:22 each game, ranks seventh in the League among defenders with 120 shots on goal and ranks third on his team with 62 blocked shots at the midway point in the season.
"I've said he's going to be one of the top three offensive defensemen for the last two years in the League," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "I'd put him up there with (Dan) Boyle and Green. He's incredible, and he's just starting to get an idea of how good he can be. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch him grow."
After a successful 2004-05 campaign at Massachusetts prep school, Cushing Academy, where he delivered 54 points in 34 games, Yandle opted for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League instead of joining his brother at the University of New Hampshire.
While Yandle admits it wasn't an easy decision, he considers it the right decision.
"I think going to play in the Quebec League was the right decision because it was more of an NHL-style league, with the travel and the amount of games," Yandle said. "I had great coaching with Teddy Nolan, Dan Flynn and Daniel Lacroix. Those guys taught me a lot, not only about the game, but how to carry yourself on and off the ice and being a good pro.
"In terms of offensive ability, the Quebec League isn't like the Western League," he said. "The West has big guys and lot of clutch and grab. The Quebec League is more of a free-wheeling league and you get to hone your skills pretty good."
Not only was Yandle named the QMJHL defenseman of the year, but he also earned Canadian Hockey League defenseman of the year honors after producing 25 goals and 84 points in 66 games. He led all QMJHL defenders in assists (59) and points while finishing tied for second in the league in goals, third in power-play goals (15) and fourth with a plus-50 rating.
"The Q isn't the league it used to be when it was all offense, as a lot of focus is on being in position," Yandle said. "You can't hold guys, cross check them down in front of the net; it's more of a position game, and if you're a good skater then you have a pretty good chance to be successful."
Yandle remembers receiving a vote of confidence from his uncle prior to joining Moncton.
"My uncle was scouting for Moncton at the time and he told me I'd be fine," Yandle said. "We had a great team and it was nice being recognized because I was going out on a limb going up there. Knowing that it worked was really nice."
It certainly did work out for Yandle, who helped lead the Wildcats to a first-place finish in the QMJHL and to the Memorial Cup finals. He scored three goals in five Memorial Cup games, including two in the championship game -- a 6-2 loss to the Quebec Remparts.

"I've said he's going to be one of the top three offensive defensemen for the last two years in the League. I'd put him up there with (Dan) Boyle and Green. He's incredible, and he's just starting to get an idea of how good he can be. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch him grow." -- Shane Doan on Keith Yandle

Yandle, who grew up an admirer of Boston Bruins legend Ray Bourque, admits his father was the greatest influence in his hockey career.
"Anybody who knows my father will tell you he's an easy-going guy but he's iron-fisted," Yandle said. "He didn't say much, but when he was in the room, the presence was felt and that definitely helped make me the person that I am. He coached us our whole lives. I remember one time not wanting to go to hockey practice and him sitting and talking and saying, 'You don't have to if you don't want to, but here's the consequence.' And he'd spell it out. He made us play different sports as well -- no hockey in the summer. I think that definitely helped tune our skills."
One of Yandle's greatest attributes is his ability on the power play. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound defenseman leads the team with 20 points on the power play, including 18 assists. He's also averaging a team-leading 4:04 of ice time with the man advantage.
"I think being confident and having that swagger to be out there is important on the power play," Yandle said. "Knowing you're a man up and knowing you have a little more time, you got to have that poise out there to do that. I think it has taken me three or so years to get that confidence in myself in knowing I can do that. Having guys like (Shane) Doan and Ray Whitney with me … that helps a lot, too."
Really, the only thing missing from Yandle's resume at this point, besides a Stanley Cup, was an All-Star invitation.
"To even be mentioned would be nice," he said. "You don't really think of that, because when you think of All-Stars you think of Nick Lidstrom and Shea Weber. You don't really look at yourself in that category, but if I get an opportunity, it would be unbelievable."
Phoenix center Eric Belanger figured it could happen this year.
"We have a team where it's a different guy stepping up every night and Keith is playing big minutes and you can see what confidence can do for a player," Belanger said. "He's confident and he's playing in all situations. When you're a player and you don't think about it, that's when you play your best. I think he's just feeding off all the responsibility that he has and he's playing unbelievably for us."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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