Peter Mueller of the Phoenix Coyotes: Where Has He Gone?

Scott WeldonCorrespondent INovember 29, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 16:  Peter Mueller #88 of the Phoenix Coyotes reacts after being injured during the NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Jobing.com Arena on November 16, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. The Lightning defeated the Coyotes 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Peter Mueller has just been sidelined by an undisclosed injury he suffered against the Dallas Stars on Friday night. He's questionable for tonight's game in Anaheim. The former standout first line center has been shunted to the wing and now plays behind Matthew Lombardi, Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata, and when he's healthy, checker Vernon Fiddler. It wasn't supposed to be that way.

Peter starred as a young man with US National under-18 team and with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League after that.

He was a leader on the US U-18 team at the world championships. He starred on two US World Junior championship squads. He was the youngest member of the US team that finished fourth in 2006. At the 2007 World Junior hockey championships he helped lead his team to a quarterfinal matchup against Canada.

The talented US team lost 2-1 in a shoot-out to the eventual gold medal winning Canadians. The US then beat the host Swedes to win the bronze medal at the World U-20 tournament. He was the third leading scorer for the US behind Erik Johnson and Patrick Kane. He was a quick dangerous skater and a threat to score whenever he was on the ice.

He was drafted 8th overall in the 2006 NHL entry draft. He was one of four American born players taken in the top ten that year and one of nine taken in the first round. That year's draft featured other future stars Erik Johnson, Phil Kessel, and Kyle Okposo.

Along with former draft picks Keith Yandle, Blake Wheeler, and Martin Hanzal, Mueller was seen as part of a cohort of young new talent ready to help create a better, more talented, and most importantly younger, Phoenix Coyote team.

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The 2007-08 season was his first in the NHL.

He was 19 years old. He played much of the season as a first line center. He played a lot of minutes, took over two hundred shots and he was successful. His rookie season saw him score 22 goals and get 32 assists in 81 games.

He was the Coyotes third leading scorer. There was a collection of young talent that looked like it was ready to come together in Phoenix. Kyle Turris had played his first three games as an 18-year-old.

Martin Hanzal, Daniel Winnik, Keith Yandle, Keith Ballard, and Enver Lisin all looked to be ready to lead Phoenix to the cusp of greatness. Ilya Bryzgalof was brought in to solve their goaltending woes. The Phoenix Coyotes were ready to move forward and 19-year-old Peter Mueller was ready to lead them.

I saw him play a game that year against the Calgary Flames in the Olympic Saddledome where he eviscerated the ponderous flames defense.

Cory Sarich helped him at one point by falling while skating backwards and allowing him to slip through to get an easy one past Kiprusoff. The Coyotes didn't manage much offense, but Mueller had three slashing spurts.

He scored three goals while dazzling slow-footed flames defenders and the Coyotes easily won the game 3-1. Aside from Mueller shifts they were out-played. That was one of the better performances I've seen by a nineteen year old in the NHL. He certainly matched up well against the Sarich's and Ericksson's of the world.

The next year, he started slowly and then suffered a concussion against San Jose on Jan. 29. He missed seven games due to the concussion and finished his season playing 72 games and getting 36 points. 

That wasn't a huge step backwards. Many the sophomore has a worse second year. Unfortunately, it didn't stop there.

New coach Dave Tippett is trying to win in Phoenix. He's running a much more veteran heavy line-up then Wayne Gretzky was. Peter Mueller's ice time has been effected a bit. His offensive out-put though has gone down the drain.

He has a goal and four points in twenty four games. He's taken 37 shots so far. He's only scoring on 2.7 percent of those shots—a far cry from the 10.95 scoring percentage he managed as a rookie.

He'll finish a long way from the two hundred shots he took in that rookie year. That's if his poor performance doesn't get him benched the way Martin Hanzal has been benched this year.

The heady expectancy created by all the talented youth in the roster last year and the year before has given way to despondency. Young talent has been traded, benched or, as in the case of young Russian Viktor Tikhonov, gone to the KHL rather then accept assignment to the AHL.

Peter Mueller was the youngster who looked to be the best of that young bunch coming forward. At age 21, Peter still has plenty of talent and plenty of time to turn it around. Here's hoping that Mueller, and the other Phoenix draftees, Boedkker, Tikhonov, Turris et al, manage to turn their careers and the team around.  

Peter Mueller might not be a Patrick Kane/Jonathon Toews kind of talent but he's a quick-skating scorer who could give the Kyle Okposo's and Kris Versteeg's of the world a run for their money.

He's also a talented American hockey player who could be a star in a desperate US market. I'm not a marketing genius but a team in trouble like Phoenix could do worse then try to build a team around young Peter Mueller. For this to work, Peter has to begin playing like he has in the past.

Hopefully, he returns to his rookie season form and soon.    

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