With half of his teammates over the last two years coming from Winnipeg, Manitoba, it was only fitting that Tri-City Americans defenseman Zach Yuen was drafted by the newly revived Winnipeg Jets in the fourth round (119th overall) Saturday of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Yuen, 18, was at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Minn., when his named was called by the Jets about 10 a.m. local time.
"I think it's a good position for him," Americans general manager Bob Tory said. "Where you are selected doesn't matter. It's the beginning of him moving toward his professional career. It's a new exciting franchise and I think it will be a good fit for him."
Yuen spent the day with his parents Charles and Mary and sister Montana.
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"It's another step in my hockey career," Yuen said on NHL.com. "I'm really excited to be part of this organization. The fans seem really excited. They sold out season tickets in 5 minutes. Playing in front of a sold-out crowd would be amazing."
Fellow Americans defenseman Sam Grist, who also was draft eligible, did not get drafted. In all, 33 Western Hockey League players were taken in the seven-round draft, led by No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, who went to the Edmonton Oilers.
"I'll get over it," Grist said of getting passed over. "I watched most of it. I just tried not to worry about it."
The Americans had several players who were draft eligible this year, but Yuen was the lone player taken.
"We would have liked to see a couple more get drafted, but the draft is limited," Tory said. "It's just one step in the process of pursing your dream."
Yuen is just the third Tri-City player drafted by the Jets. The first was Stu Barnes in 1989 (4th overall), and the other Scott Levins (1990, 4th round) -- the original Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. The current Jets were the Atlanta Thrashers, who relocated north after the 2010-11 season.
Yuen's Tri-City teammate Adam Hughesman, a native of Winnipeg, said he was keeping track of the draft when Yuen's name was called.
"I was very excited for him," Hughesman said. "When he comes to Winnipeg, we can hang out. I watched it on-line and I watched him get interviewed afterward. I'm proud of him."
Yuen was one of eight WHL defenseman invited to the NHL Combine at the beginning of June. He played all 72 regular-season games for the Americans, scoring eight goals with 24 assists and a team-high plus-41 rating.
Ranked No. 69 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, Yuen, a 6-foot, 205-pound native of Vancouver, British Columbia, went a little later than projected.
"I think it was one of those years when there a lot of Europeans that were getting filtered in," said NHL Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald, who said has seen Yuen play a number of times. "You have to remember, the North American list doesn't factor in the Europeans or goalies. When you think about it, it really isn't that big of a drop from the third round to the fourth. I'm sure it doesn't really matter to him, and it's not an indication of him as a player."
After watching him play, MacDonald said Yuen impressed him with his hockey sense.
"I think he is very smart positionally and his anticipation is very good," MacDonald said. "That's what team's liked about him. He was a very high plus (plus-41) and he makes good decisions on the ice. He's not flashy, but he will improve and he will grow a little more. Teams like players with smarts."
Once Yuen was drafted, he got a little face time on the NHL Network with draft analysts Craig Button, E.J. Hradek and Deb Placey, and future Winnipeg teammate Dustin Byfuglien.
Also drafted Saturday was Russian defenseman Nikita Nesterov, the Americans first pick in last year's CHL Import Draft. Nesterov was taken in the fifth round (148th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"We got a chance to talk to Tampa Bay and Nikita's agent," Tory said. "We don't know what his status is. We will take two players Wednesday (in the CHL draft) and move forward."