By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips have had the privilege of watching Ryan Murray wear their jersey for three-plus seasons.
Murray’s days with the Tips could end at any time, depending on the status of the NHL’s labor negotiations. But when Murray’s time in Everett finally comes to an end, Mirco Mueller will help ease the sting.
Mueller has been a revelation since joining the Tips at the beginning of the season, and he’s poised to follow in Murray’s footsteps as the lynchpin of Everett’s defense.
“He’s been real good,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “It’s never easy coming to a new country. But he’s come in and been very good for us. There’s not a lot of holes in his game.”
“I think things have been pretty good,” Mueller said. “I’m still getting better every day. It’s a different rink size, which has been an adjustment. But the guys have helped me out.”
Mueller, a 17-year-old rookie from Switzerland, has been everything the Tips could have hoped and more. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound defenseman has excelled at both ends of the ice and in all situations. He’s chipped in offensively with two goals and eight assists in 22 games, and he’s been strong in his own end, posting a plus-4 rating that’s best among Everett’s d-men.
The Tips expected good things from Mueller when they selected him 11th overall in this year’s Canadian Hockey League import draft. But Mueller has more than met expectations. He brings the total package. His height and long limbs make it difficult for opponents to get around him. He’s a smooth skater with excellent mobility for his size. He has good puck skills, and when he has the puck he makes good decisions.
“He’s a great player, a great d-man and a great guy,” said Murray, Everett’s captain and the second-overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, who’s formed a formidable defensive pairing alongside Mueller.
“It’s really a pleasure to play with him. He’s calm with the puck and always makes the right play. He’s a special talent.”
Mueller is the latest Swiss sensation to arrive in the WHL’s U.S. Division, following in the footsteps of former Portland Winterhawks superstar scorers Nino Niederreiter and Sven Baertschi. Mueller has been on skates since he was a toddler, but didn’t begin playing organized hockey until he was 9 years old. He excelled immediately and began being selected for Switzerland’s national team at every age level, even getting games with the U-20 team over the summer.
But Mueller’s goal is to play in the NHL, and he decided coming to North America was the best way to achieve that goal.
“I was always interested in playing in another country,” Mueller said. “This is one of the best leagues for junior hockey in the world, with so many good teams and players I can learn from and compete against.
“I was very excited (to be picked by Everett),” Mueller added. “Everett is a nice address, and with Ryan Murray they’ve got a top d-man.”
Mueller’s transition from the European game to the North American game was seamless. That’s no easy task, especially for a 17-year-old. Not only do European players have to adjust to playing way from home and in a different country, they have to adjust to playing a different style of game on the smaller North American ice surfaces. Nevertheless, Mueller stepped into a key role on Everett’s defense from day one.
One thing that’s aided Mueller’s transition tremendously is his ability to communicate. Mueller speaks fluent English, which eases the adjustment. And Mueller was instantly accepted by his teammates, who made him feel welcome in his new home.
“I love it here,” Mueller said. “The staff is great, the fans, the rink, it’s a very professional organization. And we have a great group of guys. Every guy is different, but they’re all good guys.”
Mueller becomes eligible for the NHL draft next June, and he’s making a name for himself among the NHL scouting community. He was ranked as one of the top 15 draft-eligible skaters in the WHL in the NHL Central Scouting Services’ preliminary rankings, and the Tips are fielding regular inquiries.
“Scouts come in for the first time and they want to know about Mirco,” Ferner said. “They’re really liking what they see. “
And so are the Tips.
An MRI revealed Everett overage winger Ryan Harrison has a slight tear in the meniscus of his knee. Harrison suffered the injury during last Friday’s 3-0 victory at Tri-City. Ferner said the team is still exploring its options, and that Harrison could be out anywhere from one to eight weeks. The Tips expect center Manraj Hayer (upper body) and defenseman Austin Adam (broken hand) back from injury this weekend. Hayer has missed six games, Adam has been out since the first weekend of the season. Tips rookie forwards Ty Mappin and Tyler Sandhu were named Thursday to Team Pacific for the U-17 World Hockey Challenge. The tournament takes place Dec. 29-Jan. 4 in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Quebec. Team Pacific includes the top 16-year-olds from British Columbia and Alberta.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.