It didn't take long for Tri-City Americans coach Jim Hiller
to see what kind of player -- and person -- he had in defenseman Zachary Yuen
No. 69 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, Yuen's impact goes far beyond the stats he's put up in two full Western Hockey League seasons.
"You always know he's doing the right things," Hiller told NHL.com. "He's got leadership qualities. Nobody spends more time at the gym than him, nobody spends more time at the rink than him. His peers look to him as a role model."
It's not just his peers to whom Yuen is appealing. The son of a Hong Kong immigrant who moved to Vancouver when he was 13, Yuen is hoping to inspire youngsters of Asian descent to start playing hockey.
"You always know he's doing the right things. He's got leadership qualities. Nobody spends more time at the gym then him, nobody spends more time at the rink than him. His peers look to him as a role model." -- Jim Hiller
"Seeing someone of your own race make it to the highest level is definitely inspiring," Yuen told NHL.com. "Hopefully that'll inspire a lot of Chinese-Canadians to pursue hockey."
"I'm happy to see the kids look up to him as a role model," Charles Yuen, Zachary's father, told NHL.com. "At the same time, he can use his influence on the kids, in a different level."
Charles said he's seen Zachary talk to youngsters about being well-rounded in life. Staying busy never has been a problem for him. In addition to hockey, he played soccer and lacrosse growing up, and also was a figure skater. He played piano well enough to earn a diploma from the prestigious London School of Music when he was 13, and also plays violin and trombone. And he recently graduated from high school with honors.
Hockey, however, has become Zachary's primary passion. Not that his father wasn't hoping he would stay on the pitch.
Charles Yuen has been active in soccer for most of his life, from owning a semi-professional team to forming the British Columbia Chinese Soccer Federation. He did Chinese-language color commentary for the soccer tournament at the 2010 Summer Olympics as well as the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS team on Omni TV.
Zachary trained as a goalie, but by age 10 he decided his sports future was on the ice.
Charles, however, wasn't upset.
"We were open and let him try different things, so he loved hockey," Charles said. "I guess he felt at that time, sorry Dad, I didn't pick figure skating, didn't pick soccer. I said no problem, that's what we're here for. You picked one, and that's great. He loves it."
While there have been Asian-descent players to reach the NHL -- Devin Setoguchi
, Richard Park
and Paul Kariya
among the current generation of players -- Avalanche forward Brandon Yip
is the only player of Chinese decent currently in the NHL. Before Yip, you have to go back to Larry Kwong
, who played one game with the New York Rangers
during the 1947-48 season.
Yuen has a chance to add to that number. He had 8 goals, 27 points and a plus-41 rating for Tri-City this past season. He's regarded for being strong in his own end, but his offensive game does need improvement. However, Hiller knows Yuen's drive to be an NHL player means the improvements will come.
"The great thing with Zach is you know he's going to put his heart and soul into it," Hiller said. "He does work on it with extra ice sessions. I know during the summer it'll be a focus for him. That is an area, one skill he has to improve. But he'll dedicate himself to doing that."
He's also dedicated to inspiring the next generation of Asian children to lace up the skates.
"They're starting to immerse themselves in the sport," Yuen said. "I think I'm seeing a few really skilled ones."
He's also working on exposing his family -- most of which lives in the Vancouver area -- to hockey. Charles became a fan when he arrived in Canada, rooting for the Canucks in the 1980s and learning to play. He coached his kids in hockey and also serves as a referee. The rest of his family is starting to get on board -- slowly.
"Mom doesn't really (watch hockey)," Zachary said. "My grandparents never used to watch hockey. Just in the last year or so, they started watching me play on the Internet and on TV and they started loving it. They loved it so much they started watching the Canucks, and they watch hockey all the time now."
Fans in China also are starting to learn about Zachary. He said he's only been to Hong Kong once, but Charles said during an interview with a radio station in China, the host knew all about Zachary and the station had been reporting on his season in Tri-City and progress at the NHL Scouting Combine.
It might not be too long before they're following his progress in the NHL.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK