Mueller Skates Smoothly Towards NHL Dreams
Mueller Skates Smoothly Towards NHL Dreams
By Carly Grimaudo
Before any hockey player picks up a twig for the first time, chances are he’ll lace up a pair of skates to hit the ice at an age so young he can hardly remember. Skating is the foundation of a player’s game and a skill that current Worcester Shark and 2013 San Jose first round draft pick Mirco Mueller will use to carve his way to the National Hockey League.
The 19-year-old from Winterthur, Switzerland first took to his local rink at what he believed to have been age two, though it was so young he could barely recall. “I lived pretty close to a rink that I would go skate at with my friends when we were growing up,” Mueller said. This nearby rink was both a friendly hangout and the spot where Mueller first developed one of his most profound attributes that he possesses today as a professional hockey player, his skating.
From the time he was around two through age nine, when he first started playing hockey, Mueller would skate at the rink for fun, unknowing of how much of an impact these early years would have on his professional game today. Once he began playing hockey competitively, his on-ice talent was inevitable, as there was only a seven-year span between when he first started playing and when he played professionally in Switzerland at just 16 years old.
Before the 2010-2011 hockey season, Mueller moved from his home club in Winterthur to Kloten to play in the top division of Swiss junior hockey. The teenager has also skated for Switzerland in the 2011 Europe Youth Olympic Festival and at both the 2013 U18 and U20 World Junior Championships. Clearly, representing his country is not something new to the young, upcoming defenseman who continues to represent Switzerland today as the only player of Swiss origin to have been drafted by San Jose or to have put on a Worcester Sharks sweater.
Following his successes as a young professional in his home country, Mueller sought to pursue hockey overseas in North America, hoping to one day reach the world’s most competitive and skill-filled hockey league, the NHL. “Hockey’s not as big or sports in general, in Europe as they are in the U.S.,” said Mueller. “It’s just the best way to make it to the NHL and it’s been going well so far. I think I’m on the right path.”
This path has not only led Mueller from Europe to North America, but from an Olympic sized rink to the smaller sized rinks played on in the NHL. “The Olympic sized rink in Europe makes it an entirely different game with different skills,” Mueller said. “The game in Europe gives players more skating room whereas here, the smaller surface creates more competing.”
Growing up skating on this Olympic sized rink largely shaped Mueller’s talents. “Skating wise it helped me a lot to play in Europe,” he said. “Skating a lot more on the larger surface forces you to work more on that so it bettered my game when I came overseas.”
Since venturing across the ocean, Mueller spent the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips where he played a combined 123 games recording 58 points (11-47-58), before recently being reassigned to the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate, the Worcester Sharks on April 1.
As a Shark, he’s played in nine games where he tallied two assists, with his first being in his debut with the team. At just 19-years-old, the newcomer is the youngest member of the team, but had no trouble holding his own on the ice. “I think I can move the puck well and break it out of the zone to tag it in to the forwards’ end so they can go and forecheck,” noted Mueller. “On the defensive side I’d say that I’m pretty good on one-on-ones and I can skate with the puck,” he added.
Mueller’s not the only one who acknowledges what he’s brought to the Worcester team since his arrival seven games ago. “He’s been a great player and I can really see why he was selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft,” said associate coach David Cunniff, who works with the team’s defensemen. “He’s been one of the best defensemen since he’s been here and has handled both the power play and penalty kills very well.”
His roles on the Sharks escalated very quickly during his short stint in the AHL, because of the potential the coaching staff sees in his ability. “In his second and third games I had him out on the ice in overtime and out there in the final minutes, which is a lot of responsibility, but responsibility he deserves because of what he’s shown us,” mentioned coach Cunniff. “He uses his eyes to take in information off the puck which is one of the more important things a defenseman can do. To most players the game seems very fast, but to Mirco it’s slow because of the eye he has.”
Though Mueller’s time with the Worcester Sharks has come to an end with the close of the regular season, his future with the Sharks franchise is bright. “This is a great first step for me to really get into pro hockey,” Mueller said. “All the coaches and everyone here does an unbelievable job, so I’m just really happy to be here.”
While Mueller’s current coaches have no doubt he’ll sport a San Jose jersey in the near future, he’ll have to prove himself at the Sharks’ training camp over the summer. Fortunately, he can rely on his skating to stand out amongst other NHL hopefuls. “He’s a great skater. His skating is going to separate him from most NHL players, and he will play in the NHL,” coach Cunniff said confidently.
Mueller hopes coach Cunniff’s predictions hold true come this summer when he’ll skate at Sharks Ice during San Jose Sharks training camp, hoping to make a transition into the NHL that’s as smooth as he is on ice.