By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips had a defenseman selected in the first round of last year’s NHL draft.
Mirco Mueller is hoping to make it two straight for the Tips.
Mueller is considered a strong candidate to be picked in the first round of this year’s NHL draft, which begins noon PDT on Sunday in Newark, New Jersey. All seven rounds take place Sunday.
Mueller was ranked ninth among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Service’s final rankings for the 2013 NHL draft, which projects him somewhere in the middle of the first round. He’s hoping to follow in the first-round footsteps of former Everett defenseman Ryan Murray, who was picked second overall in last year’s draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Mueller is one of five Silvertips who are potential selections in this year’s draft. Goaltender Austin Lotz is projected to be a mid-rounds pick. Defensemen Ben Betker, Ayrton Nikkel and Austin Adam are thought to be on the bubble.
“From all indications Mueller is going to be a first-rounder, which is really exciting,” said Everett general manager Garry Davidson, who is attending the draft along with Mueller and assistant general manager Zoran Rajcic. “That would be a real positive thing for the organization and the player himself. As for the other group of guys, we’ve seen some genuine interest in them, so we’re hoping a few more guys get taken in the later rounds. I think it’s going to be a good day for the Everett Silvertips.”
Mueller just completed his 17-year-old season with the Tips. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Swiss native, who Everett took 11th overall in last year’s Canadian Hockey League import draft, had an impressive rookie campaign. In 63 games he had six goals and 25 assists, and he stepped into the role of Everett’s No. 1 defenseman after Murray suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in November.
Mueller also has a proven record in international competition. He had two assists and was a team-leading plus-7 in six games for Switzerland at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships, despite being the second-youngest player on the team. He followed up this spring by registering a goal and two assists in five games for Switzerland at the U-18 World Championship.
Mueller then impressed at the NHL draft combine last month in Toronto, finishing first in the VO2 Max test, which measures endurance. He was interviewed by 27 of the 30 NHL teams at the combine.
In three mock drafts conducted by NHL.com, Mueller was projected to be selected 19th overall by Columbus, 16th overall by the Buffalo Sabres, and 22nd overall by the Calgary Flames. If Mueller is picked in the first round, he will Everett’s sixth first rounder in the franchise’s 10-year history.
“I’m not nervous, but I am excited,” said Mueller, who will be joined at the draft by his parents, sister and Silvertips billet family. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but in my opinion it’s cool to have no clue what’s going to happen. I’m really looking forward to Sunday.”
Lotz isn’t expected to be picked as high as Mueller, but he’s expected to have his name called. The St. Adolphe, Manitoba, resident just completed his second season with the Tips, as well as his first as the team’s No. 1 netminder. He finished 15-19-3-1 with a 3.37 goals against average and .907 save percentage. His play improved as the season progressed, and he was the primary reason why Everett won two games against eventual WHL champion Portland in the first round of the playoffs.
Lotz received further exposure after Everett’s season concluded. He won a gold medal with Canada at the U-18 World Championships, though he didn’t appear in a game. He was then one of 13 goalies who tended Hockey Canada’s U-20 Program of Excellence goaltending camp earlier this month in Calgary. He finished 10th among North American goalies in Central Scouting’s final rankings.
“Obviously I’m hoping it’s a good day and that I hear my name called,” said Lotz, who plans on spending draft day golfing with his family. “I’m trying not to go into it with too high expectations. I know the rankings say I should be picked, but there’ve been guys who were ranked higher than me who weren’t picked. So I’m going in with as low expectations as I can.”
As for Betker, Nikkel and Adam, they all have an outside chance of being drafted. Betker was 147 among North American skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings, Nikkel was 149th, and Adam was 175. Players in that range are not expected to be among the 211 players who will be picked.
However, all it takes is one team to be interested, and all three have attributes that could make them attractive to NHL teams. Both Betker and Adam are 6-foot-5 with a long reach, while Nikkel offers toughness and the willingness to drop the gloves.
Any Everett player selected in this year’s NHL draft is expected to return to the Tips next season. Players drafted out of the WHL cannot play professionally in the minor leagues until their 20-year-old seasons. Therefore, the only way they won’t be back in Everett next season is of they make their NHL team. None of Everett’s draft prospects are considered NHL ready at this point.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.