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Yuen a perfect addition on Idaho blue line

Thursday, January 14th
Yuen a perfect addition on Idaho blue line

When Neil Graham pulled the trigger in early-December to bring defenseman Zach Yuen to Idaho, he was hoping to get an experienced blue-liner that could bring some stability to the back end. The Steelheads were parting with a pretty good young player in Cole Martin to make the deal happen, but the Steelheads believed adding Yuen made them a better team for this season.

He’s been everything they were looking for.

“He’s been exactly what we thought we were getting,” said Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham on Wednesday. “He’s been a guy on our radar for a couple of years and I’ve always liked him. To be able to get him this year, I was very excited to add another veteran player to our back end.”

Yuen, a former fourth-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2011, has certainly brought some offensive pop to the back end, particularly on the team’s first power play unit. Working the point in a tandem with Kyle Jean and with the line of Jefferson Dahl, Emil Molin, and Rob Linsmayer, the Steelhead power play has vastly improved. A man-advantage that was almost at the bottom of the league rankings in early December has moved all the way up to 15th in the ECHL.

“I think he has really helped, along with others, turn that power play around,” said Graham. “The dynamic he brings to that power play, he’s a shooter as well as a very good distributor.”

“Jean and I, and the others on the unit, we have very good chemistry on the power play,” said Yuen. “In the first five or six games we weren’t scoring many goals, but since then we’ve gotten a feel for where guys were going to be and we’ve taken off.”

Yuen currently ranks third in power play assists and points among ECHL defensemen, collecting two goals and six assists with the Idaho man-advantage this season in 17 games.

Yuen’s effectiveness on the power play actually skews his plus-minus numbers. The defender has a minus-6 rating currently with Idaho, but that’s mostly because so much of his production comes on the power play where success doesn’t improve your rating.

Yuen now has seven points in the past seven games.

The coaching staff has been pleased with Yuen’s defensive play, particularly his ability to advance the puck in his own zone with a good first pass.

“We like to play north and keep the puck up ice as much as we can, and I think he’s done a very good job of using those kinds of escape moves when needed, but not relying on them,” said Graham. “He makes the first play, and he’s a very good skater which helps him to advance plays crisply.”

Yuen has always had that puck-moving ability, but he also attributes that success to the system in place in Idaho. When he is under pressure in his own end, Yuen always knows where his support is.

“I think the coaching staff has been preaching for us to communicate a lot. When I’m going back for a puck, my partner, the goalie, even the forwards are all yelling to me,” said Yuen. “I find with this team, the forwards are always working hard and getting back to spots where you can trust they will be. I find that helpful, too.”

The Steelheads are 10-6-1 since acquiring Yuen and have seen their team goal differential go from a minus-13 before the deal to plus-8 since. It’s a period of time that also coincides with the additions of Jean and more recently Jack Campbell. Thus far, all of the Steelheads’ midseason moves have fit just perfectly. An attitude like Yuen’s gives you a good idea as to why.

“I think I fit in well with this system, and Coach Graham is a great coach,” said Yuen. “I think we mesh very well and I listen to the things he says.”

“Everyone is buying in, and I think hard work is the key to our success right now.”

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