SUNRISE, Fla. -- When the Florida Panthers chased down Keith Yandle ahead of free agency last summer, the club believed it was locking up a durable skater that could produce points from the blue line and, more importantly, on the power play.
In Yandle's first season in South Florida, that's exactly what the veteran defenseman provided.
In his first season playing under the bright lights at BB&T Center, Yandle led all Panthers defenseman with 41 points (5-36-41) in 82 games. His 18 points on the power play placed him in a tie for the team lead, he finished in the top-10 among all left-handed defensemen in the NHL in scoring efficiency with the man-advantage and his 16 assists with the extra attacker bested the next highest skater, Aleksander Barkov, by five.
At 30, Yandle proved to be one of Florida's most reliable producers on offense throughout the entire 2016-17 season, notching at least seven points in every month from November through March.
"I'm in a great situation with how good of a team that we have," Yandle said after cleaning out his locker in April. "We obviously know that we're going to be better than this year. I think it's exciting for me to know the group of guys that are coming back, with [Panthers GM Dale Tallon] running the ship now. It's a long summer to get ready for next year, but it's one of those things where, even right now, I'm already ready for next year."
Off the ice, Yandle stood out as a preeminent leader and impactful mentor in the dressing room, taking several members of Florida's young defensive core, such as Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk and Michael Matheson, under his wing.
"I think the way that they handled themselves on and off the ice, they're true professionals," Yandle said of his fellow rearguards. "They come to work every day. You wouldn't think they were 22, 23 years old. They're guys that seem like they've been around a while. I think that translates over to the ice and I have nothing but great things to say about them."
With one year down and six more remaining on his contract, Yandle admits that he isn't thinking too much about the personal ups and downs of his first season in Sunrise, choosing instead to focus on a much larger, team-oriented goal: turning the Panthers into perennial playoff contenders.
"The main thing is making the playoffs," Yandle said. "Not getting there, for myself, it hurts. You think, 'I could have been better to give my team a better chance.' I think that you've just got to take that fuel, bring it into the summer time, work hard and get ready for next year."
He might not get an invite to join The Avengers, but Yandle is still an Iron Man.
With another full 82-game season in the books, Yandle extended his outstanding ironman streak to 633 games, trailing only Anaheim's Andrew Cogliano (786) for the lead among active players. Heading into next season, Yandle currently sits in eighth place on the NHL's all-time consecutive games played list.
"You always want to be in the lineup and you always want to play. It's still fun for me to go out there every day, put the skates on and you get to play this game," Yandle told ESPN of his streak. "To play at the highest level is an honor. You never want to take any night off and it's about having fun every day. I'm just going as long as I can go. As long as I'm fortunate enough and as long as I'm having fun."
With two assists, including the primary helper on the game-winning goal, Yandle helped the Panthers topple the Lightning 2-1 in overtime on Jan. 26 at the BB&T Center.
In addition to his multi-point performance, the Boston native also led all Panthers defensemen with 22:49 of ice time, including 3:32 on the power play and 1:56 on the penalty kill.
Video: Condensed Game: Lightning @ Panthers
GOAL OF THE YEAR
From long range!
In a unique twist of fate, Yandle's first goal of the season actually came against his former team, the New York Rangers. With the Panthers trailing the Rangers in the second period of their Nov. 20 matchup, Yandle managed to even things up on the power play by firing a long, powerful slap shot through traffic and past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Video: FLA@NYR: Yandle rips a shot past Lundqvist for a PPG