The Colorado Avalanche’s disastrous 2010-11 season was ravaged by injuries, with a team-record 474 man games lost to various ailments. Once-resurgent forward Peter Mueller might be the neatest embodiment of a bruised, bandaged and disappointing campaign; the former Coyotes first round pick didn’t play a single game in 10-11 after dealing with post-concussion syndrome.
It’s not very reasonable to project that his 15-game, 20 point 09-10 debut with the Avalanche is what Colorado could expect in the future. Observing the fate of Wojtek Wolski – the player whom Mueller was traded for – is a strong argument against putting too much weight into a small sample size of success.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Avalanche hope that Mueller can come back healthy next season, though. Mueller suffered from two concussions in a discouragingly small window of time as Rob Blake ended his 09-10 run on April 9, 2010 with a big hit and then Mueller aggravated that injury again almost a year ago in a Sept. 22 preseason game.
Many wondered just how long Mueller would be sidelined, but the left winger made his return to hockey action as Avs training camp began this weekend. After adding some weight and adjusting his equipment with the help of concussion expert Dr. Robert Cantu during the off-season, Mueller expressed optimism as he took and delivered his first few hits in almost a year.
“I took a couple hits and I gave some hits, and I didn’t really feel anything,” Mueller said later. “I’m extremely happy with today. It’s another step in recovering.”
“It’s right there,” Mueller said of his health. “Every time I get out there it’s getting better and better every day. Everybody has been great for my comeback and I’m very happy with that.”
Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco discussed Mueller’s rehab process and how much he might be able to help the team’s mediocre power play from the point.
“Obviously missing the season last year, the big question mark coming into this year is, how is he going to feel?” Sacco said. “With Peter, we’re looking to see improvement each day. His conditioning, that will take a little bit of time, getting used to the game, getting used to the speed of the game again. I thought he was fine out there.”
As well as he played when healthy following the trade from Phoenix, Mueller gave the Avalanche a potent weapon from the point on power plays, and he was sorely missed there last season.
“He’s a right-handed shot and when we had him for the short period of time before he was injured, he was very deadly there,” Sacco said. “He was a big part of the power play. I’m hoping we can work four other guys around with Peter and have a very productive power play. Not only on the power play but five-on-five too, but that’s a special area for him because of his ability to shoot the puck and get it off quick.”
If his initial linemates (Matt Duchene and Milan Hejduk) are any indication, Mueller could return to the Avalanche lineup in a large role. Of course, the concussion rehab process can be an uneven one, so it’s too early to assume he’ll be able to do so. It’s just one of several situations that could either way for an Avalanche team that wants to put an ugly 10-11 behind them.