The Curious Case of Peter Mueller

Remember way back when, oh say, 2 years ago? The Coyotes were still owned by Jerry "The Dirtbag" Moyes, still coached by Wayne Gretzky and were still a basement level team. After years of trying to bring in old washed up players for another go round to try and make something happen, the team finally woke up and committed to actual rebuilding. They said they wanted to grow through the draft and with the young guys they had. Management even told the Season ticket holders that year that the 2007-08 campaign was going to be a painful one but that it would all be worth it. We saw a lot of young guys on the ice that year, but none were more promising than one,19 year old, Peter Mueller.

Other players such as Martin Hanzal skated for the Coyotes in the 07-08 season  too, but Mueller was supposed to be the natural scorer that the team desperately needed. For a while that was the case. In his rookie season, Peter racked up 54 points (22 goals and 32 assists). While not the greatest player ever, 50+ points is nothing to scoff at especially foar a rookie. As his sophomore season began, expectations were high for the young guy and it seemed as though he would be somewhere close to the previous seasons. Heading into the all-star break he stood at 12-18-30 and on pace for 20 goals and 31 assists. Not too far off. But, much like last year's team Mueller wasn't the same after the break,, but it wasn't because he was in a funk or because of a jinx, no his hard luck came at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks on January 27, 2009. In the 2nd period Mueller hit his head and sustained a minor concussion that took him out of the game.

 

It turned out that the concussion wasn't so minor. The hit kept him out for 7 games instead of the one or two that the team previous thought. Such is the land of head hits.Even when he came back he wasn't the same player. over the course of the remaining 24 games Mueller would only score one more goal and five assists. Far from the performance we expected from a future star. That hit to the head really messed him up. While Mueller was never the most aggressive hitter or guy in the corner, there was a marked difference in his game when he came back. He didn't challenge anyone. He would spin away from hits with or without the puck. He just had no confidence. It wasn't that he didn't think he couldn't play or that he didn't have skill, it was a lack of confidence in his own body to be able to take a hit. Now for most guys would this be a problem? Other than coming out of the injury probably not, but with a 20 year old kid that has a lot of expectations on him to have a hit mess up his head is a big deal. Whether consciously or not, every time there was contact involved you could watch him clench up way more that the average player. He was quite simply scared to the point that his skill couldn't break through. Now imagine having that problem with a coaching staff that was headed by a player that never had confidence issues, never had to work through anything like that. How does a player get help for it?

 

The bottom line is that he didn't. The coaching staff's decision was to put him back out there and let him play through it. How'd that work out last season? He was still getting top line minutes a lot of the second half of the season as the Coyotes tried to climb back into the playoff picture. They decreased toward the end, but I would say he needed some sort of way to ease back into the game.

 

This season has played out a little differently. While Mueller still has flashes of the offensively gifted player we know he can be he's been mostly quiet again this year. In 39 games he has only 3 goals and 9 assists. The reason? Probably still some confidence issues especially when combined witht the new system Dave Tippett brought in. So far that seems to be a game that's full of checking, digging in the corners and being aggressive with the puck. Muller has been looking for the niche that almost everyone else on the team has found. We know who the top line scorers are. (Doan-Lombardi-Upshall) We have an effective shutdown line that can also score at times with or Czech line of Vrbata - Hanzal - Prucha. Then we found a good energy line pairing of Winnik and Fiddler who plug in Pyatt or Korpikoski  depending on who's playing well. That leaves Mueller to get lined up with Robert Lang and whoever is leftover. So what does Mueller do this year? He gets some power play time here and there and largely does nothing. He's averaging 13 minutes a game though and has been doing alright on defense with only a -3, which isn't due to his offensive output to say the least.

 

That being said, the ridiculous calls by many to simply "trade his ass". Or of fans to simply rag on him for the entire game forgetting everyone else is simply dumb. The fact is he's only 21 years old, will be an RFA at the end of the season and has miles of potential. That could actually be helpful to our team come this offseason when it's time to resign him. Would I be happier if these couple of goals that he's had in the past 3 games lead to an offensive explosion from him and we had to shell out for him? sure, but if that doesn't happen I'd rather be patient and give him some more time on an inexpensive new contract. Though seriously, I'll take 30 more goals instead.

That probably made little to no sense, so to recap: Be patient with Mueller, enough ragging, could be a cheap signing, head injuries bad and score 30 more goals this year Petey.

 

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