When the San Jose Sharks re-tooled this summer, they didn't go out and splurge on a bunch of free agents – they left the door open for the youth, instead. Forwards Chris Tierney and Barclay Goodrow both made their NHL debuts this fall, but the rookie who has made the biggest impact so far is Swiss teenager Mirco Mueller.
The once-lanky defenseman bulked up over the past year, much to the delight of GM Doug Wilson. Mueller is now listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds – almost 30 pounds heavier than when the Sharks drafted him 18th overall in 2013. But when the 19-year-old chased down L.A.'s Marian Gaborik in the season-opening revenge win over the Kings, it became clear that Mueller put the weight on the right way.
A product of the Kloten Flyers system back in Switzerland, Mueller came over to North America for the 2012-13 campaign, suiting up for the Everett Silvertips of the Western League. He played two seasons for the Tips, getting stronger, rounding out his game and learning to play more physical, while also drawing duty with Switzerland at two straight world junior championships. Now he's transferring that experience to the NHL.
“I play a simple game," Mueller said. "Make the simple passes, move the puck and defensively I’m pretty steady. I’m not easy to beat 1-on-1 or on the rush, that’s my style.”
The Sharks sat the kid a couple times early on this season (more for educational purposes than for punitive measures), but they've also given him an important role on a pairing with offensive threat Brent Burns. Through 10 appearances, Mueller hasn't been hidden by coach Todd McLellan, either – just 42.5 percent of his shifts have begun in the offensive zone, but to his credit, 48 percent have ended there. He played nearly 25 minutes in San Jose's last game, a win over the Islanders, and he leads all NHL rookies in blocked shots with 19. Needless to say, he was happy the Sharks gave him an opportunity to succeed at such a young age.
“They really put an emphasis on their own prospects and players," he said. "That’s something you can motivate yourself with in training and over the summer. It’s good to know you’re on the right path.”
Going from Switzerland to Everett (in Washington State), Mueller was basically living in similar mountainous terrain, which helped the transition. San Jose gets less than half the amount of rain that Everett does, and that's OK with Mueller too.
“The whole area is really nice," he said. "The fans are great and the weather’s nice. I like that Western lifestyle.”