Yandle embraces veteran mentor role to young Flyers

Cam Atkinson wears Flyers' "player of the game'' jacket after two-goal performance in Wednesday night's 6-3 win over Boston (Photo by Zack Hill).

VOORHEES, N.J. – Playing in 925 straight NHL games requires more than just good health and good luck.

It also means someone must possess a high hockey IQ and, if his personality allows, the ability to assist a succeeding generation of players.

Such is the case with 34-year-old Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle, who often outthinks opponents as much as he tries to outwork them.

Yandle, along with fellow veterans Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen, came to Philadelphia with the intention of steadying a backline corps which looked unsteady at times over the past couple years.

The poise and presence Yandle brings to the locker room extends to players at all positions. And the plays he executes show his teammates just how many chess moves he can be ahead of the game at times.

For instance, take the other night when Yandle spotted James van Riemsdyk busting it down the left side behind the Boston Bruin defense. Yandle fired a half-rink entry off the end boards and JVR caught the rebound in perfect stride, dished to the middle and Scott Laughton ripped it into the net.

The crowd cheered Laughton’s goal but some of that applause surely was directed at Yandle’s brilliant maneuver.

No doubt some of the young players on the bench were thinking, “hmmm, so that’s how it’s done.’’

Asked if he likes being a mentor to the Flyers’ youth, Yandle nodded in the affirmative.

“A hundred percent,’’ he said. “Having been a young guy in this league and having guys that I looked up to and the way guys treated me when I was young. You got through an NHL locker room as a kid and you’re sitting next to (former Arizona captain) Shane Doan or Ed Jovanovski. . .you’re in awe everyday. When they help you out, just little things like paying for dinner, I had some of the best older guys around. It’s something I’ve tried to pay forward.’’

Yandle arrived in Philadelphia after playing five seasons with the Florida Panthers, who were the Flyers’ opponents on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

It’s always special when you play your former team for the first time. Yandle knows that but he maintains the battle level should be no different than any other team.

“It’s one of those things where every team in this league you have to get up for and be ready for your opponent,’’ Yandle said. “Obviously, they’ve been playing well, so it’s another one of those things where it’s a good test for us. A little added motivation for myself but I wouldn’t want to say too much more than any regular game.’’

The Massachusetts native confirmed there are a few of Florida’s tendencies he could bring to the table.

In this case, that’s extremely helpful because the Flyers were playing the Panthers for the first time since the end of the 2019-20 season.

“Some guys you haven’t played against,’’ Yandle said. “Our coaches do a great job of giving us a scouting report, telling us about guys but I guess it’s good for me to help out, tell guys about tendencies and what they (the Panthers) like to do.’’

>Ellis out, Seeler in

Defenseman Ryan Ellis, still bothered by a lower-body injury, was scratched from Saturday night’s game. Nick Seeler was called up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to take his spot. Coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t believe Ellis’ injury is too serious and he could be ready for Wednesday night’s game at Edmonton.

>Atkinson ready to go

After getting a maintenance day off on Friday, Cam Atkinson said he’s ready to go for the Panthers game.

“As I get older, it’s nice to get some maintenance days,’’ said the 32-year-old Atkinson after the morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. “But I’m ready to go.’’

Although the Flyers handled powerhouse Boston with relative ease on Wednesday night (a 6-3 win), the 4-0-0 Panthers come to town with equally impressive scouting reports.

“They play fast,’’ Atkinson said. “They play a north-(south) game. Their transition game is up there with the best. So we just have to be smart around the red lines and blue lines. They have a lot of offensive weapons, you just try to take their time and space away.’’

>Player of the game jacket

The Flyers have come up with some unique “player of the game’’ trophy-type items over the years, including a workboot and a hat donated by the family of Bucks County war hero Colby Umbrell.

This year’s prize is a Starter jacket, which was won on Wednesday night by Atkinson for his two-goal performance. However, it’s a “one size fits all’’ deal and the 5-foot-8 Atkinson found the jacket a bit “roomy.’’

“Hopefully they washed it,’’ Atkinson said with a chuckle. “It’s pretty cool, especially when you get your first one.’’

Atkinson said the jacket was arranged by Kevin Hayes, who has a reputation for being the locker room activist.

“It doesn’t surprise anyone of us,’’ Atkinson said. “I think it took him a while to find it. It’s pretty unique.’’

About Wayne Fish 1501 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.