SUNRISE, Fla. - The lone veteran presence on one of the NHL's youngest blue lines, Keith Yandle succeeded as both a player and a mentor during his second season with the Florida Panthers during the 2017-18 campaign.
At 31, Yandle posted the second-best point total of his career, leading Florida's defense and ranking 12th in the league among blueliners with 56 points (eight goals, 48 assists). Yandle is one of just three defensemen in franchise history to reach 50 points in a season, joining Robert Svehla (57, 1995-96) and Brian Campbell (53, 2011-12).
"I probably can give a lot of the credit to the way that we've played, the way our coaching staff…the system that Boogs [Panthers coach Bob Boughner] put in for us," Yandle said. "Obviously, the coach's having confidence in me playing in all situations is huge too.
"Playing with Ek [Aaron Ekblad], too. I think in the last probably five or six years it's been the first year that I've really just had one D-partner over a year and to not bounce back and forth. I think getting that stability with Ek and playing with him, it was great for me."
In the locker room, Yandle earned a reputation as a "calming presence" among the team's young defenseman, a group that consisted of four players under the age of 24. With a good attitude and quite a bit of humor to keep the mood light, he's been credited with helping the defense weather a slow start and overcome quite a few growing pains along the way.
After the All-Star break, Florida's defense surrendered the seventh-fewest goals in the NHL.
"Being an older guy, you always have to help out," Yandle said. "I think if you look at the age of our D-core, Ekkie [Ekblad] being only 21 and Matty [Mike Matheson] it's his second year. I think they're all under 25 years old and to have a D-core that young, it speaks volumes about the way we came through throughout the year, playing well and I think we're only going to get better."
Other than leadership, the best word to describe Yandle would be durability.
The NHL's active ironman, Yandle hasn't missed a regular season game since March 22, 2009 - a streak of 715 consecutive games. With another full 82-game season in the books, he moved into seventh place on the league's all-time list for consecutive games played, trailing ex-Panther defenseman Jay Bouwmeester by just 22 for sixth.
Yandle has played in 164 consecutive games since joining the Panthers in the summer of 2016.
"To play any game in the league is special," Yandle said. "For me, I never take it for granted. You come to the rink and enjoy every moment of it, try to get better every day. To play any games in this league is a true honor for me."
Looking ahead, Yandle expects defense to be one of Florida's greatest strengths next season.
"I thought we, as a unit, played well, especially at the back end of the season," Yandle said. "We showed a lot of resilience and a lot of pride and I'm proud of them."
Yandle was an absolute workhorse for the Panthers this season. One of just eight players in the NHL to play more than 2,000 minutes this season, Yandle saw a staggering 2,008:06 of ice time -- a career high and the sixth-most in the league. He is also the first Panther to skate over 2,000 minutes since Brian Campbell posted 2,210:32 in 2013-14.
A key contributor on both special team's units, he ranked third on the Panthers in power play minutes (270:31) and second in shorthanded minutes (183:19), which was also a career best.
Yandle skated a season-high 28:46 in a 4-2 win over Minnesota on Dec. 22.
Yandle earned first-star honors when he tallied a goal and two assists to help lead the Panthers to a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the KeyBank Center on Feb. 1.
In a game that featured plenty of penalties and seven power plays for the Panthers, Yandle was a steady hand on the blue line, opening the scoring in the first period with a goal on the man advantage and later assist on both the game winner and a late third-period insurance goal.
"Yeah, that was one of those games that got out of hand a little bit with some cheap stuff," Yandle told reporters after the game. "But the big thing is finding a way to win, and we did a good job of that."
Yandle finished the season with 13 multi-point games - the fifth most on Florida.
Video: Yandle powers Panthers to 4-2 win against Sabres
GOAL OF THE YEAR
The smiles were shining pretty bright after this one.
After receiving the puck just beyond center ice, Yandle acted as if he was going to send the puck up along the board to get a change, but instead fired the puck towards Nashville's net, catching goaltender Pekka Rinne off-guard for a very unusual goal on Jan. 20.
"Our goalie coach kind of gave us the heads up to try it," Yandle said of the goal. "I think I've got [Rinne] once on it before. I think the first one hit the glass on him, back in the day. It's just a lucky goal, but I'll take it."
Video: FLA@NSH: Yandle beats Rinne from the neutral zone