|Forward Peter Mueller signed a one year contract with the Panthers. (Getty Images)
The line stands out among Peter Mueller's statistics -- 20 points in 15 games during the 2009-10 season.
The Florida Panthers signed the 24-year-old Mueller to a one-year contract as a free agent this offseason with those numbers -- and their need for any kind of offense -- certainly in mind.
"He understands this is a great opportunity for him," Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said after the July 12 signing. "He's a top-six forward. He has size and skill, and he's still young. It's well worth the risk for us to sign him to a one-year deal and hope he gets back to what he was before he was injured."
Mueller put up those gaudy figures above after the Avalanche acquired him from the Phoenix Coyotes in a deadline trade. At 21 years old, he seemed to be realizing the potential that was forecast for him as the No. 8 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft and reinforced his rookie season.
But he suffered a concussion on April 4, 2010, and missed the final four games plus a six-game playoff series. That didn't keep the Avalanche from signing him to a two-year contract, but another concussion in a preseason game cost Mueller all of 2010-11.
After a three-game attempt to open last season, he came back for good on Jan. 12. He went 654 days between NHL points.
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"Every time I talk to doctors since I got cleared last time in January, everything is good," Mueller said on his first day with the Panthers. "The doctors are behind me 100 percent. Nothing is really a red flag. Everything is good to go. I've been working out ever since I got cleared. Things have been getting better each and every day. To be honest, I haven't felt this good since coming into the League my first year."
Mueller had 16 points in his final 26 games for the Avalanche. But the Panthers, whose scoring depth drops precipitously when forwards Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann leave the ice, are pining for more -- a lot more.
"I hope to get him back to what he was his rookie year," Tallon said. "He seems to be revitalized, and we did our due diligence. ...
"We brought him in here and checked him out from toes to nose, and everything checked out fine," Tallon added. "... He's still young and has a lot of good years ahead of him, so if he does well and plays well he's got a great opportunity to stay here for a long time and fit in with our development plan."
Mueller debuted with the Coyotes as a 19-year-old, scoring 54 points in 81 games. He hasn't played that many games in a season since then.
If Mueller can contribute full-time, likely playing alongside heralded rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers will be much better poised to defend their Southeast Division title and return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1996-97.
"I'm just looking for a fresh start -- obviously it's no secret with my past," Mueller said. "As I spoke to Dale, he's basically told me what he's expecting out of me and I'm expecting a lot personally from myself. I'm coming in here with a great attitude and just ready to rock and roll this coming season."
Author: Mike Battaglino | NHL.com Staff Writer