Defenseman Mirco Mueller is the highest-ranking prospect in the San Jose Sharks organization. But will Mueller be in San Jose when the Sharks start the 2014-15 season, or will general manager Doug Wilson send the big defenseman down to Worcester to gain some pro experience before the former first-round draft choice joins the big club?
Expectations are high for Mueller, and few scouts doubt that he should develop into a solid NHL player. The Swiss-born defenseman is 6’3” and already weighs 201 pounds despite the fact that he won’t turn 20 until next March. He has the size to compete in the NHL, it’s just a question of whether or not he’s ready.
In its annual “Future Watch" issue, The Hockey News described Mueller as “steady, defense-first, capable of shutting down top players.” They compared him to current Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Don’t expect big offensive numbers from Mueller, especially at first. Offense is not his forte. Last year, Mueller played in 60 games for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL and scored five goals and 27 points. He finished the season with a nine-game stint in Worcester, where he accumulated a pair of assists and a minus-five plus/minus in his first professional action.
So far, San Jose's brass is pleased with Mueller’s development. “He’s a world class skater,” Wilson told Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com. “His hockey sense. He’s very mature in how he plays the game. It fits how the game is being played in this league right now. Very high expectations for him.”
There appears to be one spot available on the San Jose blue line entering training camp. The Sharks have five established NHL defensemen under contract right now in Vlasic, Justin Braun, Matt Irwin, Scott Hannan and Brent Burns, who will return to the blue line after playing forward last season. That leaves one spot up for grabs with Mueller, Dylan DeMelo and Taylor Doherty being the leading candidates.
Doherty is also considered a prospect. He’s already 22 and stands at 6’8” while weighing 235 pounds. He is considered NHL-ready, but he’ll have to fight to earn a spot on the San Jose roster this year. Like Mueller, Doherty is considered a stay-at-home defenseman who should be a force in his own zone but not produce much offensively.
The Sharks drafted DeMelo in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL draft. He’s 21. He became a top-four defenseman at Worcester last season after a slow start. In 68 games, DeMelo scored two goals and 24 points with a minus-17 plus/minus rating. At 6’1” and 195 pounds, he would not add as much size to the lineup as Mueller or Doherty.
Mueller clearly has the highest upside of any of these players. If all things are equal, the Sharks would like to see Mueller earn that final spot. Still, the team is not going to sacrifice its prized prospect’s long-term development.
“He’s getting bigger and stronger,” Wilson told Kurz. “He’s right on the path.”
Whether that path leads him to San Jose or Worcester to start next season remains to be seen, but the future is bright for Mirco Mueller.