was a man among boys at the Leafs’ rookie camp this week.
Now he finds out whether he can be a man among men.
Training camp scrimmages begin on the weekend and for a team that finished out of the playoffs last year there are precious few story lines.
Can Nazem Kadri
stick, let alone deliver as the club’s second-line centre behind Tyler Bozak
? Will Jonas Gustavsson
march smartly through camp? What to do with Jerry D’Amigo, who was impressive at rookie camp? And finally, where best to deploy German winger Marcel Mueller
The 22-year-old Mueller signed a two-year-deal with the Leafs in July. He is six-foot-two, 220 pounds. He already has NHL size. He showed at rookie camp that he has NHL speed.
“This guy is big and strong,” said Marlies’ coach Dallas Eakins who oversaw the camp and sent Mueller over the boards every time he could. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a core on a player like this. I truly believe that when he gets with better players he is going to play better. I think his time will shine when we get into exhibition games next week.”
What makes Mueller so interesting is his experience. Not many rookies have played five years of professional hockey. Fewer still have performed at the Olympics.
“The Games were the best experience I ever had,” Mueller said. “I wouldn’t change it for any money. It was unbelievable to play the best players in the world.”
Coached by longtime NHLer Uwe Krupp, the German Olympic team featured Boston forward Marco Sturm, Buffalo’s Johan Hecht, Marcel Goc and Alexander Sulver of the Nashville Predators, The Panthers’ Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff of the Vancouver Canucks.
Mueller was also a member of the German team that finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship in Cologne.
Despite 30 goals spread over his last two years in the German Elite League, Mueller sees the defensive game as paramount.
“I think of myself more as a defensive player who can score. I think I do well on the boards. I am a big forward and I try to protect the puck and get it to the net.”
Mueller manhandled some smaller opponents at the Leafs’ rookie camp, but also erred in throwing pucks into hotspots. Clearly there is a learning curve involved here.
Auguring in Mueller’s favor is the Leafs’ frightful inability to kill penalties last season. They finished dead last in penalty killing and second last in goals against. A fleet-footed forward who can play say on the third line, help kill penalties, deliver a good forecheck and lend a defensive conscience will find himself with a job. The only question is where, especially since Leafs GM Brian Burke has predicted that Mueller could eventually play on one of his team’s two lines.
“If he is taught the right way to check he could be a quality shut down guy who can put some pucks in the net,” Eakins said.
“Hopefully I don’t see him with the Marlies, but if I do we will get to work on him right away and get him ready for his first callup.”