Phoenix Coyotes center Peter Mueller wasn't a nominee for the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie in 2007-08, but he wasn't far from the discussion. Mueller was tied for third among rookies in points with 54 and scored the second-most goals among rookies this season with 22 -- just two behind Calder nominee Jonathan Toews.
With the arrival of Radim Vrbata, who set career-highs in goals (27), assists (29) and points (56), and rookies Mueller, Daniel Winnik and Daniel Carcillo, the Coyotes were in the playoff chase well into March. Unfortunately, they hit tough sledding at the end of the season and won just two of their last 11 games, which put the final nail in their playoff coffin.
"There's no doubt in our mind we want to focus on the playoffs," Mueller said. "We had a better season last season than the Coyotes did the season before. We felt the pressure at the end of the season, but we have to learn to cope with it. Everyone's goal in the organization is to get into the playoffs and to win the Stanley Cup."
Aside from Vrbata and Shane Doan, who is entering his fifth season as the Coyotes' captain, Mueller averaged the most ice time among the club's forwards and the fifth-most among rookies in the League with 17:15 per game.
"It's definitely an accomplishment to play as much as I do," Mueller said. "I do like the pressure. It means that I'm playing well and that I'm earning the ice time that I'm getting from my coach. I like to be in the spotlight."
Part of what got the Coyotes back on track last season was their power play. After having the No. 22-ranked power play in 2006-07, Phoenix's power play was No. 11 this past season with an 18.6 percent success rate, and Mueller was a major contributing factor. He was tied for third on the team with seven power-play goals and was third on the club with 22 power-play points. Mueller plays the point for coach Wayne Gretzky's because of his powerful shot, and this has given him increased defensive responsibility.
"It's definitely an accomplishment to play as much as I do. I do like the pressure. It means that I'm playing well and that I'm earning the ice time that I'm getting from my coach. I like to be in the spotlight" -- Peter Mueller
"Playing the point on the power play gives you more of a responsibility," Mueller said. "It also gives me more defensive responsibility. I like that the Coyotes gave me the opportunity to play the point on the power play and I feel it has made me a better defensive player because I am the last player back on my side."
Even though the Coyotes were unable to sign Blake Wheeler, picked No. 5 in the 2004 Entry Draft, Phoenix's pipeline is still chock-full of quality prospects. Phoenix has the No. 3 pick in last season's draft in Kyle Turris, who had 35 points in 36 games as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin this season and earned a three-game call-up to the Coyotes at the end of the season after Wisconsin's season had ended. The Coyotes drafted Brett MacLean with their third selection in last year's draft at No. 32. He led the OHL with 61 goals in 61 games this season while playing alongside 17-year-old phenom John Tavares for the Oshawa Generals.
The Coyotes don't just have solid forward prospects, they also have Nick Ross -- selected No. 30 overall in last season's draft -- and Chris Summers -- selected No. 29 in the 2006 Entry Draft -- waiting in the wings to join the likes of Ed Jovanovski and Derek Morris on Phoenix's defense.
With Mueller's and Phoenix's maturation, there should be hot times in the Arizona desert in the future.