Mueller ready to blaze own path from Everett to NHL
It isn't too far-fetched to believe that Everett Silvertips defenseman Mirco Mueller could one day be reunited with his old partner in the Western Hockey League.
During the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, the Columbus Blue Jackets chose Silvertips blueliner Ryan Murray with the No. 2 pick. That's the same Murray who played 23 games with Everett in 2012-13 and was paired with Mueller before sustaining a shoulder injury that would ultimately sideline him the remainder of the season.
The Blue Jackets have three picks in the first round of the 2013 draft on June 30, and Mueller is a projected first-round candidate. Does he feel there's a good chance the Blue Jackets may attempt to reunite the Silvertips tandem in Columbus?
"I don't think they will be thinking that way," Mueller told NHL.com. "They're not going to select players just because they once played junior hockey together. They'll do what's best for their organization."
Still, Mueller is quick to note Murray was a big influence.
"In the beginning of the season, I played over 20 games with him and we were a defensive pair," he said. "It's not really hard to play with him. He's a heck of a player and he helped me a lot off the ice. He doesn't talk too much, but is an unbelievable leader and usually has a good message or information."
NHL Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said he feels Murray's influence certainly rubbed off on Mueller.
"I think it was probably good [that Mueller spent time with Murray]," MacDonald said. "It helped him set up on how to approach the game. When Murray got hurt, you could almost see that he picked up the slack and burden for the defense. All of a sudden, he became their go-to, top-minutes guy. Murray's injury pressed him into playing earlier than maybe the staff wanted … but he handled it."
Mueller, No. 9 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top draft-eligible North American skaters, finished second among WHL rookie defensemen in scoring with 31 points (six goals) in 63 regular-season games on his way to being named Everett's rookie of the year.
"His point production doesn't prove the type of defender he is," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "He creates from the back end, and maybe he won't finish it, but he creates and provides opportunities for everyone else on the ice. Everett wasn't a very strong team this year, so if you put him on a strong team, we could be talking about a player who might even be ranked higher than ninth on our list."
Mueller, a native of Winterthur, Switzerland, competed internationally for his country this season at the 2013 World Junior Championship and World Under-18 Championship. He also competed in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Halifax, Nova Scotia in January.
He had two assists and ranked fifth in the tournament with a plus-7 rating in six games for sixth-place Switzerland at the WJC, and one goal and three points in five games at the U-18 World Championship in another sixth-place showing.
"The country has worked a lot of years to be regarded as a contender," Mueller said. "I thought we did well at the World Championship [losing to Sweden in the gold medal game]. Second place was well-deserved. The team did a really good job; they didn't steal any of those wins. I hope it continues and changes what people think of Swiss hockey."
The 6-foot-3.25, 184-pound left-handed shot was selected by Everett with the No. 11 pick in the 2012 CHL import draft. He spent the 2011-12 campaign in Switzerland, playing 32 games with Kloten in the Elite Novizen and produced 12 goals and 31 points in 32 games.
"I'm a defenseman who plays a simple game, makes simple passes," Mueller said. "I think I'm hard to beat 1-on-1. I just try to make the forwards better, give them more time with my overview from the back end and try to create plays."
Mueller, who speaks fluent German, French and English, had a perfectly good explanation when asked why he decided to make the jump to North America in 2012-13.
"The CHL has an NHL-like schedule," he said. "There's a lot of games and pressure, and you can really be successful. There are a lot of good players on good teams and, to me, it's really similar to a pro league and I needed to see what it was like. I like it a lot."
Mueller, who enjoys watching the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets because of their rowdy fan bases, has been compared to Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen. He said he will attend the draft with no expectations.
"I will just enjoy my time with family and see what happens," he said. "So many things can happen."
Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting, said Mueller was considered a must-view at the midway point in the season. Central Scouting listed him No. 12 on the midterm list in January.
"Everyone went in and watched this Swiss player and came away very impressed," Marr told NHL.com. "There isn't any situation that he doesn't play through or play well through. His hockey sense, read and anticipation and the way he reacts to the play, are great … he's so quick."
Marr recalled how a former highly rated player from the Swiss league was drafted and in the lineup that season for his team: defenseman Luca Sbisa. Sbisa was selected 19th by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008 and played 39 games for the team in 2008-09.
"Sbisa had a fast path to the NHL and wasn't fazed by the situation; Mueller is that same type," Marr said. "There are very few players you can say play a mistake-free game, but this kid makes all the right choices out there."
Photo credit: Christopher Mast