His long blond hair makes him instantly recognizable and everywhere he goes people ask the Everett Silvertip centre for his autograph, beg him for a broken stick or just want to give him a high-five. Mueller, taken with the eighth pick by the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the NHL draft in June, is more curious than bothered by all the attention.
“They definitely treat us like rock stars here, sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming,” Mueller said. “Sometimes I want to ask these people why they want my autograph. Sometimes I have to take a step back and make sure my feet are on the ground.”
Mueller, last season’s Western Hockey League rookie of the year, is a playmaking centre with extraordinary skills. A strong skater rarely knocked off the puck, he has uncanny vision and quickness to go along with his thick six-foot-two 201-pound frame.
Mueller set an Everett franchise record with five assists in a Nov. 23 win over the Tri-City Americans, sits third in the WHL with 42 points and leads in assists (35 assists) despite missing four games due to an extended stay with the Coyotes at training camp – where he nearly made it to the NHL at age 18.
Mueller also has courage. He decided to turn down a scholarship offer at the University of Minnesota and leave friends and family to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL in Everett simply because he felt it was his fastest route to the bug leagues.
“It was a hard decision, but I’m thrilled with it,” Mueller said. “From the first day I came to Everett I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I’m unbelievably thankful to be a part of this club.”
In their fourth season after expansion, the Silvertips are 23-2-0-1 and are ranked No. 1 in the 56-team Canadian Hockey League.
A big reason is Mueller, who willingly moved to the point on the WHL-best Everett power play. It’s not the first time Mueller has played out of position and he was also on the point for the U.S. at last year’s world junior championships.
“I was willing to give it a try and it’s worked out,” Mueller said. “I just want to contribute wherever I can.”
Mueller is also a standout on the other end of the ice as the Silvertips lead the WHL on both the power play and the penalty kill.
Everett coach Kevin Constantine, a former NHL coach with San Jose, Pittsburgh and New Jersey, is no longer surprised by the things Mueller does on and off the ice.
“His vision, his hockey sense and playmaking skills are flawless,” Constantine said. “He’s a special player who clearly makes everyone around him better. He just totally fits in with our team concept.”
Mueller grew up in the Twin-Cities suburb of Bloomington, Minn., and started playing hockey at four and quickly became completely absorbed with the sport.
“I started young, but I didn’t have a lot of hockey sense at first,” Mueller said. “I wasn’t even close to being the best guy on the ice.
“I just played all the time, from sunup to sundown, and just kept working on things.”
Mueller celebrated his ninth birthday by scoring nine goals in a single game and he has been a hockey prodigy ever since.
“I just kept working on things,” her said. “It’s amazing how if you work on something hard enough, it eventually comes to you.”
Mueller had plenty to learn as he worked out with Phoenix Coyotes in training camp with head coach Wayne Gretzky keeping an eye on him.
“It’s a whole new world to be playing and look up and see guys you usually see in a video game,” Mueller said. “It was an amazing experience.”