LONDON, Ont. – The last time Marcel Mueller travelled to North America he had an important decision to make.
His itinerary included stops in Montreal, Dallas, Nashville and Toronto—but only one of the cities would become his NHL home. Having already met with Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke in his native Germany, the forward felt most comfortable in Toronto and signed a two-year deal with the team on July 14.
It’s a decision he’s come to feel even better about after taking part in the team’s rookie tournament that wrapped up Tuesday.
“Every youth hockey player wants to play for the Maple Leafs,” Mueller said this week. “It’s such a great organization with such a big history. It’s an honour to play for this organization.”
Mueller is one of the franchise’s more intriguing prospects. He’s big—listed at six foot three, 220 pounds by the team—and has already played in the Olympics, IIHF World Hockey Championship and put in five seasons of professional hockey in Germany.
He’s also coming off a breakthrough year that saw him register 24 goals and 56 points in 53 games for the Cologne Sharks—numbers made even more impressive by the fact he spent a third of the season as a defenceman.
That move was made against Mueller’s wishes by coach Igor Pavlov, who was trying to fill holes because of injury. When Pavlov was fired in November, replacement Bill Stewart moved Mueller back to the wing.
Despite that experience, it’s unlikely he’ll be used as a swing player in North America. He can’t stand being stuck on the blue-line.
“I hate it,” said Mueller. “I’m the kind of player who likes to do something. At (defence), you just pass the puck and follow the play and you can’t do much.”
Mueller is virtually assured of starting the season in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies. It’s the best case scenario for almost all of the Leafs prospects at the rookie tournament—at least those not named Nazem Kadri.
Marlies coach Dallas Eakins oversaw the organization’s entry at the event and singled out the performance of forward Brayden Irwin and defenceman Simon Gysbers.
Like Mueller, neither of those players was drafted by the Maple Leafs. Irwin and Gysbers each joined the organization earlier this year as college free agents.
“(They) kind of replace what draft picks we might be missing,” said Eakins.
Above all, the rookie tournament gave the organization a chance to see some of its prospects in a competitive setting while introducing them to the team’s culture.
“We’re trying to right the ship I guess right now,” said Eakins. “It’s little things with these guys—some of the junior teams or college teams, if they say ‘hey, be at the rink at 10:30’ and they come rolling in at 10:35 it’s not a big deal. Where here, it’s the riot act and it’s unacceptable. …
“It’s just little things that we start sticking them with because if they ever do make it to the Marlies or the Leafs, it’s the way they’re going to have to live.”