By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — One came back with an NHL preseason point to his name. The other returned with an NHL contract in his pocket.
Mirco Mueller and Jujhar Khaira have returned to the Everett Silvertips following their NHL sojourns, and both earned something valuable from their time in the professional ranks.
Mueller, an 18-year-old defenseman in his second season with the Tips, was back after spending three weeks with the San Jose Sharks. Khaira, a rookie 19-year-old forward, was back after three weeks with the Edmonton Oilers. Both were reassigned to Everett on Sunday, with Mueller arriving in time to take part in Monday’s practice, while Khaira was back to participate in Tuesday’s skate.
“It was awesome, of course,” Mueller said following Tuesday’s practice at Lynnwood Ice Center. “It was a great opportunity and there were a lot of great players. It was awesome to get to know them, and being in the same locker room was real special. They’re really good guys and I had lots of fun.”
Mueller was San Jose’s first-round pick in this year’s NHL draft, meaning this was his first training camp with the team. Mueller’s time with the team got off to a rocky start as he was cross checked in his first game at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C., and had to sit out the rest of the tournament because of a back injury.
However, it wasn’t a fruitless trip for Mueller. He recovered in time to take full part in San Jose’s practices last week, and on Sunday the Winterhur, Switzerland, native signed an entry-level contract with the Sharks.
“That was a bit unexpected after my injury there in Penticton,” said Mueller, who plans on using his signing bonus to buy a car for use in North America. “I just tried to do my best at camp and show there wasn’t too much pain. I just fought through it.”
Khaira, who was a third-round pick by Edmonton in the 2012 NHL draft, already had his NHL contract as he signed with the Oilers in August. However, it was also his first NHL training camp because last year’s training camps were wiped out by the NHL lockout.
Khaira played well at the Young Stars Classic, scoring once in his three games. Then he got into one of Edmonton’s preseason games, playing more than 10 minutes in the Oilers’ 5-2 victory over Vancouver on Saturday. Playing on a line with Nail Yakupov, the first-overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, and Ryan Hamilton, Khaira also picked up an assist when he set up Yakupov for Edmonton’s fourth goal.
“It was really exciting,” Khaira said. “It’s a dream, obviously, to play with all those guys. It was a lot of fun and a great experience, I learned a lot.
While Khaira plays with Everett, the Oilers “want me to develop as a complete player and just sharpen up my skills,” Khaira said. “While I was there, they were a lot more crisp than I was, so I just need to work on everything like that.”
While Mueller and Khaira both gained something valuable from their time with their NHL teams, the Tips gain something equally valuable from their returns. Mueller and Khaira add two top-end talents to a team that opened the season with a dominating 8-3 victory over Prince George without them. Now the Tips have two more weapons to add to their arsenal.
“In the case of Mirco coming back it probably has less impact, in that we brought one guy back and had to let a good hockey player go. (Finnish winger Waltteri Hopponen was the casualty as he was released Monday),” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “I’m not saying Mirco isn’t a very talented player, he’s a very good player. So it’s good to get that strength at defense back. But we lost a good kid and a good player, too. In the case of Jujhar coming back, it’s a free addition to our team. We add a good player without losing a good player in the process.
“They’re both great players,” Constantine continued. “They’ve both been drafted by NHL teams and they’ve both signed NHL contracts, so obviously the NHL believes they’re going to be good — for obvious reasons. They’re good skaters, big bodies, cover a lot of the ice, play pretty good on both sides of the puck. It should help.
“Will it help immediately? I don’t know. They need to get integrated into what we’re doing. That will take a little time. It’ll change some D pairs and some lines, so we’ll lose a little continuity by inserting them back. But in the long run it should mean good things.”
Mueller and Khaira are both expected to make their season debuts when Everett travels to face Vancouver on Friday.
“I’m really excited,” Mueller said about getting his Tips season started. “We had a great start with the first win, that’s a good sign. They don’t even need me anymore, pretty much. I’m excited to be back. They’ve worked hard the past three weeks, I saw some changes, they played pretty good and I’m just trying to get back into the grind again.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.