When it comes to mid-round selections in a NHL draft, there are two main categories of prospects in my opinion.
The first is to take a chance on a prospect that is a bit of a project. A player who has some good traits (e.g. size, skating) and could have a relatively high ceiling but hasn't put all the tools together, played against tough competition, or developed as one may have hoped a year ago. A guy to pick now, let him grow at his own rate for a few more seasons in juniors, college, or their European league, and then see if he has achieved enough of their potential to believe they have a real future in the NHL.
The second is a prospect who doesn't have too many flaws now, but doesn't necessarily have a high upside or is limited by not being big or his style of game being difficult to evaluate - like a shutdown defenseman. For lack of a better word, a selection that isn't all that sexy but could be good depth if things work out for the player and the team in the future.
The subject of today's prospect profile, defenseman Zachary Yuen, falls into this second category. Let's learn more about him after the jump.
Who is Zachary Yuen?
Zachary Yuen, also known as Zach Yuen, is a defenseman for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. With his somewhat late birthday, he got a taste of the major junior league as a 16-year old, got more games mostly at 16 before turning 17 last season - including a long playoff run with Tri-City, and really got into it in this past season with 72 games played, 8 goals, and 24 assists. By no means was he ever a point machine, but as noted by this January article by Rene Ferran of the Tri-City Americans Examiner, he played well enough to be featured on the Americans blueline at age 17 in the WHL. It didn't hurt Tri-City, as they finished 44-24-2-2 in a tough U.S. Division last season.
Like Zac Larraza, Yuen has shot up in Central Scouting Service's final rankings since their midterm - from 87 to 69 for North American skaters. Unlike Larraza, this rise was driven by his performances in the WHL and not an excellent international tournament performance. Per the CSS profile, Yuen's not a big defender, but at an official height of 6'0" and 205 pounds, I wouldn't call him small either.
In this December 2010 "Meet the Ams" article by Ferran, Yuen has came into the 2010-11 season with the intent to be more offensive and that has permeated into his description of his game:
Yuen spent the offseason working on all aspects of his game and came into the season with the mindset to become more offensive-minded and bring the puck out of the defensive zone more.
"I just started doing it on my own," Yuen said. "As long as I'm not costing the team, I think (the coaches) are OK with it."
So far, the results have been positive. In 28 games, Yuen has a pair of goals and 12 assists (with a plus-8 rating and 28 penalty minutes) after recording just one goal and three assists in 42 games a year ago.
"I think I'm a shutdown defenseman but with offensive abilities," Yuen said.
Lastly, if you really want to know who he is or at least hear his family and others talk about him in a Chinese restaurant complete with some other conversations in the background, then AHA Media has you covered plenty of pictures and video it last summer. Fun fact: He was listed at 180 pounds then according to the post. I guess he bulked up.
What Experts Have Said About Zachary Yuen
If you're a fan brevity, then you'll appreciate this short blurb in Scott McDougall's March 2011 WHL rankings at The Scouting Report:
17. LD Zach Yuen | Tri-City – If Yuen was a couple inches taller, he probably would be in most NHL teams’ top 10 wish list from the WHL. Skilled and unintimidated.
In some way, this says more than it does. He has game, but because he's not particularly large or particularly special in terms of skill, he's a potential third-round pick as opposed to a second-round pick. I don't get it, I don't think 6'0" is all that small - but I'll go into that a little later. For what it's worth, CSS may agree with this ranking, as they have him listed 18th among all WHL prospects.
What makes Yuen's game stand out? Eldon MacDonald's short profile on Yuen at The Future of Puck names three traits in particular:
Even though he is not a "wowser" type of guy, Zachary Yuen does some things special even from under the radar. First is his skating, because of his figure skating background he has the edges and can make the turns that kind of remind you of PK Subban. Second, even with his modest physique, Zachary has mastered the course in taking out your man in front of the net. Third, he has a zen-like presence in making quality first passes no matter what the distraction.
MacDonald figures he's about the 89th best prospect in the draft; but perhaps he'll go sooner? These three traits are certainly desirable in a defenseman prospect. If he is already mobile, uses his size well regardless of how impressive it is, and can remain poised in making a first pass, then he could have a nice future. MacDonald also helpfully points out he was on the top defenseman pairing for Tri-City, so he's displaying these skills in significant situations - which is another plus in Yuen's favor in my view. The only negative thing I found in MacDonald's profile was that his size was preventing him from going in the second round.
Kirk Luedeke, who runs Bruins 2011 Draft Watch and is a Guy Who Knows Things when it comes to prospects, is also big on Yuen as a prospect. His whole post on Yuen is chock full of praise which you should go read. Therefore, I'm just going to quote his closing summary on the prospect.
Yuen doesn't have a lot of high offensive upside, but he's a well-rounded player who brings intelligence, character and strong family values to the mix. This is the classic player who won't get a lot of 2011 draft day attention, but could end up being a fan favorite for whichever NHL team drafts him when he goes to the development camps, because he does so many of the little things well and by all accounts is an excellent teammate and good guy.
His lack of height and lanky frame is likely what is keeping him from being more of a name player in this class, but with his mobility, spirit and sense, we think Yuen is underrated and could be an excellent value in the third round or lower.
Luedeke confirmed a lot of the other praise I pointed out and then some. This summary hits on another key reason why he's being discussed as low in the draft he is - the production hasn't flowed from him skills and it's not likely that he's going to grow in that regard. Hence, he's seen as a safe defensive defenseman prospect. What really makes him a sleeper is that he's a good skater, he's smart, and he's already on his team's top pairing which speaks of his defensive talent.
A Little Video
This may surprise you, but there's not a lot of video of Yuen playing hockey. Defensemen who don't put up a lot of points and tend to excel at defending aren't exactly highlight machines. Therefore, watch this video of a then-16 year old Yuen fighting Brendan Rouse back on December 11, 2009.
I don't like fighting all that much in hockey, but it's video evidence that Yuen really doesn't get intimidated (and I believe he threw the second half of that sandwich check that led to the scrap). There's that at least.
An Opinion of Sorts
What others have written about Yuen has been mostly positive across the board, and from that it's clear to me why CSS increased his rank so dramatically. At the same, those same pieces point out two main reasons why he's got third-round potential as opposed to anything higher: his offensive upside and his size. I can understand the offense. He's never been all that productive and none of this praise about Yuen includes his shot or play from the point for a reason. That he can make a first pass under pressure, per MacDonald's profile, is good; but it 's not enough to think he'll be much more than an defensive defenseman.
I have to admit, I really don't understand the size issue. Yes, I can see how being tall and/or having a large frame can be a big plus. I know it's important for a defenseman to be strong so when he goes plays against men who are all strong, they can not only withstand the physical game but dish it out as well. And I'm not disagreeing with what experts who have seen him play and saw his lankiness.
At the same time, I'm not seeing how this is a big problem. He's not diminutive by any means and he's not particularly light at his official weight of 205 pounds. Maybe he went down over the season? More to the point, I'm a New Jersey Devils fan and they have had several not-big defensemen in their system and on their NHL roster. Size didn't keep Brian Rafalski, Andy Greene, Johnny Oduya, and Mike Mottau from breaking into the league to various degrees; nor did it stop Matt Taormina or Matt Corrente from getting a chance to get show off their skills last season. Basically, Yuen's size doesn't really concern me so much - it's whether his other skills and traits can translate to the next level. Yuen will be going to the NHL combine and should he do well in the various tests, I'm sure other teams won't be so concerned on June 25.
This all said, I have to go back to how Luedeke described him: "a mobile shutdown defender who is capable of chipping in some points." That's not necessarily an enticing projection for a prospect, but it's perfectly fine for a third round draft pick. Should the New Jersey Devils take him at 75th overall, I would be pleased.
Now that you've read all of this on Zachary Yuen (a.k.a. Zach Yuen), I want to know what you think of him as a prospect. Are you put off by his size, his offensive upside, or something else? Were you pleased to learn of his positive traits on top of playing on the Americans' first pairing at age 17? Would you mind if the Devils drafted him in the third round, should they be interested in him? More importantly, did you see Yuen play or know other sources online who have? If so, then please share them in the comments about him so we all can learn more about Yuen as a prospect. Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Yuen in the comments. Thanks for reading.