TORONTO – He had difficulty expressing it, but there was no shortage of excitement in German rookie Marcel Mueller’s eyes after playing his first NHL game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s an honour to play for the Maple Leafs, an organization with so much history,” the 22-year-old Berlin native said Saturday. “It was an unbelievable moment.”
Mueller made a name for himself last season when he averaged better than a point per game with the Cologne Sharks of the German Elite League and acquitted himself well for his country at the 2010 Winter Games. Toronto signed him to a two-year entry-level contract in July.
This season he has seven goals and 20 points in 39 games with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. But he had been playing especially well recently, which earned him his call-up.
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson has shown a penchant this season for playing call-ups and young players as much as anybody else available to him. Saturday was no exception, as Mueller saw 12:58 of ice time in a 2-1 loss to Calgary, more than three other Toronto forwards and two defencemen.
“I thought I’d play a little bit, but I think I played a lot, yeah I was surprised,” the six-foot-three, 220-pound winger said.
Overall Mueller played well Saturday. He failed to score on a couple of chances, but didn’t look out of place and used his big frame well. Wilson said it was too early to make any proclamations on Mueller’s play, but that a cross-country flight from Abbotsford, B.C., didn’t help.
“I thought all and all he played a good game,” said sophomore centre Tyler Bozak. “He’s physical and made the right plays. (Wilson) likes to let the call-ups and younger guys get in there. It lets us see that he trusts and makes us want to play better.”
The transition from Europe to North America has been a big one for Mueller. He said he hasn’t been surprised by anything specifically, but didn’t downplay what the move has meant.
“It’s a big difference between Europe and North America,” he said. “The culture is different, the lifestyle, stuff like that. But I’m getting used to it.”
More important for Mueller now will be adjusting to the NHL.
“It was way faster than in the AHL,” he said when asked about graduating from the minors.
The Leafs were missing four forwards against the Flames, which was the impetus for the promotion. But if Mueller can impress, a longer stint with the big club is possible. General Manager Brian Burke and Wilson have shown that strong play will earn call-ups a longer stay.
As for Mueller, he’s just happy to get any chance.
“It was a good experience,” Mueller said. “It was fun for me.”