“I knew moving overseas to play in the WHL was the right move for me,” says Mueller. “It’s such a great league that helps guys get to the NHL. I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.”
Fortunately for Mueller, he didn’t get off the plane in Everett not knowing what to expect. His friends — Calgary Flames first-rounder Sven Bartschi and New York Islanders first-rounder Nino Niederreiter — gave him pointers and advice to make his transition as smooth as possible.
“They told me about the league and how everything goes,” says Mueller of the former Portland Winterhawks and fellow Switzerland natives. “My agent, Andy Rufener, is also their agents. So we had hockey camps and stuff in the summer. I got to talk to them then and sometimes over the phone. It is nice to have guys from my country come here (WHL) before me, so I can ask them questions.”
It has been so far so good for Mueller in the States. The 17-year-old’s transition to North American culture has been smoother than he anticipated.
“I thought it would be more different than it is,” says Mueller, who is from Winterthur, 30 km north of Zurich in northern Switzerland. “A lot of stuff here isn’t that different from back home. There is a lot of forest here like in Switzerland and it rains a lot, too.”
Despite noticing a day-and-night difference between the level of play in the WHL from the junior Swiss league he played in last year, Mueller has stood out for all the right reasons in Everett. The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder has shinned a slick puck-moving defenceman with strong offensive instincts, notching five goals and 24 points in 49 games.
“It’s way more physical here and the players are way more skilled,” he says. “There is a lot more hitting and the goaltenders are harder to score on. And more skating because the ice surface is bigger."
“I’m happy with how I have been playing in my first year here. I have gotten a great opportunity to play lots of minutes. I don’t want to focus on points, but I think I’ve scored quite a bit. I’m happy with that.”
After being ranked 12th among North American skaters by NHL’s Central Scouting Service in their most recent ranking, it seems Mueller is poised to be the next Switzerland native selected with a first-round pick in the NHL entry draft.
“It would be great to be a first round pick,” says Mueller. “But the draft is still a long ways away. I was surprised when Central Scouting ranked me that high because it’s just my first year here.”
1. Do you try to model your game after an NHL defenceman?
“I try to be like (former Detroit Red Wings captain) Nicklas Lidstrom. He was such a great player. He had a great overview of the ice and could move the puck down the ice really well.”
2. Who is your favourite NHL team?
“I like more than one team. I like the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Boston Bruins. They are just really good teams. I like watching them.”
3. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I’m a defenceman that can move the puck and be good in my own end. I want to be a consistent player that helps out in my end and the other end.”
4. Some have compared you to former teammate and Columbus Blue Jackets second overall pick Ryan Murray. What do you think of that comparison?
“He’s a very good player. I was sad when he got hurt. I don’t think you can compare me to him. He was drafted second overall. I am not even drafted yet. He’s done a lot more than me.”
5. Have you noticed a difference in the food from Switzerland to the States?
“Yeah, it’s more healthy in Switzerland. But you can still eat healthy here if you go to stores and buy healthy foods. There is just a lot of fast food here."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen
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