By: Jeff Dahlia
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Over the last five years, Peter Mueller has made a steady climb through the hockey world and is now considered one of the games top prospects.
Having traveled the miles, skated in the camps, played on the top teams, and earned some pretty respectful awards and accolades on the way; its been a reality for sometime now, that Mueller has been hunting down the biggest dream the sport has to offer.
After playing on an all-star squad during the 2002-03 season back at the Breck School in Minnesota, which also featured Coyotes 2004 first round draft pick Blake Wheeler, Mueller moved onto the U.S. National Team Development Program.
During the next two years, Mueller felt his game started to mold and his potential became limitless.
"It was the best to two years of my life so far," he recalled about his time with the USA Hockey program based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. "I got to learn a lot. They taught us how to produce more, how be more effective on the ice and how to play a lot more defense."
While the NTDP gave him the structure and vehicle to develop, he admitted that he had a lot of on-ice help along the way.
"I think they made me a lot better as a player," he explained about his former teammates and the success they shared while in the program. "Playing with Phil (Kessel), Jack (Skille) and the rest of those guys, you can't help to learn what they bring to the table."
At the conclusion of his stay with the U.S. development program, Mueller was set to make his next big step. Many had him pegged to play for the Golden Gophers and the University of Minnesota, but little did everyone know, his interest in the Western Hockey League (WHL) had grown over time and he was ready to make another bold move.
"I wanted to play like a pro and be considered as a pro," Mueller said about his decision to join the Everett Silvertips for the 2005-06 season. "I also wanted to be under Kevin Constantine because he knows how to win at the junior level and the NHL level."
They say hindsight is 20/20, but in this case it seemed no matter what direction Mueller was going to take at that point, either avenue would have only added to his development.
In this case, Mueller went on to have an all-star season with the Tips. He finished tied for second among all WHL rookies in scoring (58 points) and grabbed the leagues' rookie-of-the-year award.
"It was very, very exciting," he said about coming into his first season with modest expectations and then earning the top rookie award. "From the get go, I just wanted to go out there and bring what I could to the table. I thank my teammates for helping me win that award."
As far as the Coyotes and Mueller go, fate brought the two together this past summer at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, B.C., when the franchise selected him with the 8th overall pick in the first round.
Now far removed from the days, where as a young kid he would hit up the local ponds around Bloomington, Minnesota, Mueller is getting ready to write the next chapter in his pursuit of NHL stardom.
Playing in the 4th Annual Pacific Division Shootout, a rookie tournament where prospects and young free agents battle with an eye on earning NHL contracts, Phoenix's latest addition is among the Coyotes rookie squad battling for the ultimate prize.
"I'm very comfortable," Mueller said after his second game in tourney as he admitted he had to shake off opening round jitters. "Everyone we have here is great because we're helping each other out. There are some good guys in that locker room and they keep boosting everyone's energy up and encouraging everyone to do well."
?So far, Mueller has had an impressive start at the tournament. In the first two games, his four points (all assists), lead the team in scoring and is only one point behind Los Angeles' Eric Werner for the tournament scoring lead.
Mueller and the rest of the rookie squad have two more games in the tourney (one of which will be for the championship against the Los Angeles Kings thanks to a 2-0 start), before the club packs up and heads back to Phoenix for the start the team's veteran camp.
He doesn't want get ahead of himself, but the thought that he'll be suiting up for his first NHL training camp with the Coyotes is constantly on his mind.
"I want to finish out this tournament very strong and see what happens," Mueller said about what the weeks ahead have in store for him. "If I don't make it in the NHL this year, I want to go back to the 'dub' (WHL) and win a championship with Everett."
For now, Mueller will keep pushing forward by focusing and visualizing on what he needs to do to continue to make a name for himself. Sure, showing up to his first pro camp may be a bit intimidating, but he's confident he'll go out there and play his game.
"Being here alone, is a dream for me," Mueller added. "I love what I do, I'm going to keep loving what I do, and all I can say is that I'm on cloud nine right now."
It looks like he's off to a good start on his latest chapter.