Mirco Mueller competed in the world junior championship last season (Don Denton, The Canadian Press)
With the quietly effective game he plays, it figures that Mirco Mueller possesses a rare distinction among the NHL's incoming draft class.
Many North American-based players had to fight fatigue and jet lag after a trans-oceanic flight to Russia for either the world junior championship in Ufa or or world under-18s in Sochi. Mueller, the 6-foot-3½, 184-pound defenceman who was ninth among domestic skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking, did so twice. He was a key part of Switzerland's U18 and U20 teams.
"I was pretty honoured to do that, play for my country," Mueller says. "I have lots of great memories and it helped me get better. I got to play against so different players this year, in different competitions."
On the whole, Mueller had a promising first season in Everett, helping a very young Silvertips outfit ride out a midseason coaching change to qualify for the WHL playoffs. The native of Winterthur, located in the eastern part of the nation, had six goals and 31 points in 63 games and managed to be only minus-10 on a 25-win team. He also helped the 'Tips, despite finishing 60 points behind the eventual league champ Portland Winterhawks, earn two wins in the first round against the league juggernaut.
"I'm glad we made the playoffs," says Mueller, who speaks German, English, French and Italian. "It was cool to get that experience and even better that we were able to get some wins. I think that surprised some people."
Mueller's length and more than exceptional mobility by the standards of tall 18-year-old defencemen have likely cemented his status as a first or high second-round pick in the June 30 draft. His physical play — a quality that was hardly cultivated by playing on the wider international ice surface in his formative years — progressed as he adapted to the WHL. The X factor in how early he hears his name on June 30 might come down to projections about how much of an offensive side he will provide in the NHL.
"I want to play more offensively, create more plays and join the rush," Mueller says in looking ahead to his 18-year-old season with the Silvertips. "I just want to be a leader on the team. We had a pretty young team this year. We had a lot of guys who could create chances, maybe we just needed more confidence sometimes."
1. What prompted you to play in North America this season?
"I wanted to play abroad for my draft year, It helps a lot to play over here because there is way more attention than in Europe and you play on the smaller rink. It's a high level of competition in the WHL."
2. Who would you single out as being the most difficult forward(s) to match up with in the WHL?
"The whole Portland team was really good, but especially the Nic Petan line with [Brendan] Leipsic and [Ty] Rattie. They had great chemistry and it was really tough to defend against them. I don't think I would be where I am if I had not got to play against them."
3. What did you miss most about being home in Switzerland?
"The mountains are really nice. Just the fresh air and the relaxing atmosphere."
4. On the flip side, what is something you enjoyed about Everett that you do not have back home?
"Just the place where hockey is. The people love the game, they're not just cheering for one club. It's so much more popular. I've really been impressed by it.
5. Which teammate(s) in Everett do you thank for really helping you adapt to the WHL grind?
"Cody Fowlie was a really good friend to me at the start of the year [before a trade to Kelowna]. So was [Silvertips goalie] Austin Lotz. He's a great guy, really funny."
"There were a lot of people who made it pretty easy to adjust, especially the billets and the guys on the team. We did a lot of stuff off the ice. There weren't really any surprises... (smiles) maybe the weather could have been nicer."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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