EDMONTON -- Mirco Mueller figured the best route to the NHL was through North America. So at 17, the native of Winterthur, Switzerland packed his bags and moved to Everett, Wash., knowing little about the region and less about the Western Hockey League.
"For me it was the best way to start the path to the NHL," Mueller said. "That's what I felt. I really just wanted to come play here. I didn't really have any idea of what team I would be playing with and I didn't know what to expect. But I knew it wasn't something that would bother me. It was something new and it's been really fun, and so far it's gone really well."
Mueller, 18, was selected by the Everett Silvertips in the first round of the 2012 Canadian Hockey League import draft. Just over a year later, he was taken at No. 18 by the San Jose Sharks in the 2013 NHL Draft.
"That was pretty special for me," Mueller said. "In Swiss hockey there was some excitement about me getting drafted. But our country is more about soccer and other European sports. Yet there were some nice comments and text messages from the people I know back home when I got drafted."
Prior to returning to the Silvertips for his second WHL season, Mueller had an opportunity to attend Sharks training camp and get a taste of what lays ahead.
Unfortunately an injury at a rookie tournament limited his experience.
"I got cross-checked in the back and I was out for a few days," Mueller said. "But it was still a great experience and I learned a lot, there were a lot of good players there. It was really good practicing there, the pace was good and it was lots of fun.
"The first time practicing with the Sharks was unreal for me. It was really special. Those are guys that you watch on TV."
Mueller was sent back to Everett to polish his game and continue his development. He's taken on a bigger leadership role with the Silvertips this season, one of the top teams in the WHL Western Conference.
"He's just such an effortless skater and then he's got great natural hockey sense," Silvertips coach Kevin Constantine said. "He had a chance to go and get a little experience at an NHL camp and now he's back working on his game. Everybody, including Mirco, has to understand that to be good at the game you have to work at it on a daily basis."
At 6-foot-4 and 200-pounds, Mueller has all the physical attributes to make the jump to the next level.
"I think his skating, his range and his stick and his defense is really good," Constantine said. "I think he could develop a little more consistency in his offensive game, some passing, and his shot and his willingness to shoot.
"When you come from Europe it's a passing game and the North American game is more of a shoot and crash-the-net game. So I think he's still learning some of that in terms of adapting his game to the style in North America."
Mueller understands being drafted simply is another step on the road to the NHL. Though he's aware of the strengths in his game, more importantly he can identify the deficiencies and work on those.
"You can improve everywhere," Mueller said. "But the most I would say is that I have to get bigger and stronger to be able to compete in the battles and the corners and things like that. There were some pretty big guys in San Jose. I definitely want to work on that.
"I also want to take on a bigger leadership role in Everett from last year. I need to help lead the way, especially for the younger guys. I want to show and lead by example."
Not yet a household name in Switzerland, Mueller is starting to make an impression in his home country, having represented Switzerland at the IIHF World Under-18 and World Junior Championship last season.
He doesn't regret making the move to North America and tries to stay in contact with his friends and family back home.
"With all the new media it's not so bad," Mueller said. "You can keep in touch with them really well. It's just the time difference that's the problem. It's a little hard to find the time that works for both sides. But I have friends here, I have great billets and have great teammates and I don't miss anything back home a whole lot."
Soon Mueller hopes to represent Switzerland at the senior level. He has enormous potential and is capable of joining the ranks of a handful of Swiss-born players in the NHL.
"I think because of his skating and his range his upside is unlimited," Constantine said. "Then it'll just be a matter of how he develops in the next five years as to the type of player he's going to be. Is he going to be a shut-down guy or is he going to blossom offensively as a top three? I think anything can happen; it's tough to predict right now. If he keeps working on his game anything is possible. He has a lot of upside to his game."
Mirco Mueller, defense, Everett Silvertips
Height, Weight: 6-foot-4, 200 pounds
Draft information: Selected in first round (No. 18) by San Jose Sharks in 2013 NHL Draft
Hometown: Winterthur, Switzerland
2012-2013 WHL stats: 63 GP, 6 G, 25 A, 31 points
2013-2014 WHL stats: 13 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 points
Author: Derek Van Diest | NHL.com Correspondent