Like most things in San Jose last year, Mirco Mueller’s progression didn’t go exactly to plan.
Mueller, the 20-year-old blueliner San Jose took 18th overall in 2013, started out the year in the NHL as part of GM Doug Wilson’s “tomorrow team” movement, only to see his ice time dwindle by early December.
From there, he was loaned to Team Switzerland for the World Juniors and, upon returning, was shuffled back and forth between San Jose and the club’s AHL affiliate in Worcester, before a thumb injury in late March ended his year.
All told, Mueller appeared in just 39 games for the Sharks, three for Worcester and six for Switzerland — not a ton of hockey for a youngster that needs all the reps he can get.
Which begs the question — where will he get them this year?
On paper, Mueller appears to be part of the club’s six-man defensive unit, along with Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Brenden Dillon and newly acquired Paul Martin. But the Swiss rearguard will have some pretty heady competition for that spot, particularly in the form of Matt Tennyson, who appeared in a career-high 27 games last year, and Dylan DeMelo, a 22-year-old prospect who, according to AHL bench boss Roy Sommer, is ready to make the leap himself.
Speaking of the American League, it could end up being the place where Mueller starts this season.
There were worries San Jose rushed him to the NHL last year and it’s important to remember that, of all the d-men taken in the first round in ’13, only Seth Jones and Rasmus Ristolainen have emerged as regulars; some have argued that Nikita Zadorov, taken two spots ahead of Mueller, was also rushed to the NHL (and has since been traded to Colorado).
What’s more, the likes of Philly’s Samuel Morin (No. 11), Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey (No. 13) and the Islanders’ Ryan Pulock (No. 15) have yet to even make their big-league debuts.
Mueller knows that, based on his age and number of players looking to stick with the Sharks, this fall’s training camp will go a long way in deciding his fate.
And he knows the challenge will be difficult.