Jets' Yuen first ever Chinese blueliner drafted
HOSEA CHEUNG, QMI Agency
|Zachary Yuen poses for a portrait after being selected 119th overall by the Jets during the NHL draft in St. Paul, Minn., June 25, 2011. (NICK LAHAM/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER - When the Winnipeg Jets called out Zachary Yuen's name Saturday at the NHL Entry Draft, they were adding more than just a solid two-way defenceman to their ranks.
The Vancouver, B.C., native became the first Chinese blueliner to be drafted into the league, selected 119th overall. And Yuen is hoping his ethnicity and rising exposure will help him become the perfect role model for Chinese kids looking to get into the sport.
"I didn't see too many Asians play hockey when I was growing up," Yuen said. "Hopefully, this will help other Chinese Canadians, inspire them and get them to pursue hockey too in the future. If they look up to me and they see me doing something good, they'll follow suit."
Playing for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, Yuen turned heads with his steady defensive play, posting a team-best plus-41 rating last season to go along with his eight goals and 24 assists. He also has two fights in his junior career.
Two years ago, the Americans lost in the WHL Final, but the playoff run gave Zach the confidence he needed to bring his game up a level.
Since then, others outside of North America have also taken notice of the soft-spoken 18-year-old.
Zach's dad, Charles -- a part-time sports commentator in Vancouver -- was recently told by a hockey show host from CCTV, one of China's biggest national television networks, that his son was generating attention overseas in Beijing. Charles also received emails from a hockey tournament organizer from Hong Kong, congratulating Zach on being drafted.
"I also saw a few articles that talk about Zach and they were very encouraged about having Chinese players in the NHL," said Charles, who came to Canada from Hong Kong when he was 13 years old.
The heightened interest for the younger Yuen -- who says he may need work on his Cantonese if he were to do interviews in the language -- is welcoming considering the lack of Chinese players in the NHL.
Larry Kwong was the first Chinese player to enter the league, breaking the barrier in 1948 by playing one game with the New York Rangers, while former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Peter Ing, of mixed ancestry, also comes to mind. B.C.'s Brandon Yip is the most successful Chinese-Canadian player to date, currently a forward with the Colorado Avalanche. He's someone Yuen said "was pretty inspiring to see" play in the NHL.
As a third-generation Canadian, Yuen began skating at 22 months old, played competitive hockey at the age of three and took up figure skating for five years starting at the age of eight. He also has a piano diploma from the London College of Music, a talent he says translates into hockey.
"It helps you have soft hands, because your wrist is used so much and it helps makes your wrist more fluent," Yuen said. The self-control of having to sit at the piano and playing for two hours straight also shows not just in his on-ice game, but off the ice as well.
Ever since meeting with nutritionists, dietitians, and doing research of his own, Yuen has been a health nut, being both picky and disciplined with what he eats. He even puts his own twist on some popular Chinese delicacies.
"When he eats dim sum, he puts it in hot water first," said dad Charles. "He doesn't want to eat extra and unnecessary fat."
That emphasis on a healthy diet has paid off. Two summers ago, Yuen dropped a mass amount of baby fat, going from 200 pounds to 178. He has since added muscle, raising his weight to 205 pounds.
For now, Yuen is focused on improving every aspect of his game, feeding off advice Jets brass told him after the draft.
"They said, 'Just work hard,' " Yuen said. "I'm working towards playing for the Jets (next season) for sure. If not, I'll just go back to junior and improve my game there and hopefully aim for next season."