Unlikely that Mueller will return to Silvertips

EVERETT — In all likelihood, tonight Peter Mueller confirms his status as an NHL player.

And as a result, the Silvertips will more or less be able to write off the possibility of the talented playmaking center returning to Everett this season.

Tonight, the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes travel to play the Dallas Stars. If Mueller plays, it will be his 10th game in the NHL this season, meaning his NHL contract will take effect.

Once a player’s NHL contract kicks in, the chances of that player being returned to his junior team are virtually nil.

Mueller was one of Everett’s stars the past two seasons. In 2005-06, he had 26 goals and 32 assists in 52 games en route to earning WHL Rookie of the Year honors. Last season, he had 21 goals and 57 assists in 51 games while being named a first-team Western Conference all-star. In 2006, he was selected eighth overall by Phoenix in the NHL draft.

Mueller was expected to make the Coyotes this season as a 19-year-old and be a significant offensive contributor. However, Mueller’s had a slow start. Playing in nine of Phoenix’s first 10 games, Mueller has one goal, one assist, four penalty minutes and a minus-4 rating. He’s averaging roughly 121/2 minutes of ice time per game, which is typical of a third- or fourth-line forward.

The slow start fueled speculation that Mueller, who as a 19-year-old is ineligible to play professionally in the minors, might be returned to Everett after all. However, as of early this week, there was no indication out of Phoenix of plans to send Mueller back down. And if Mueller suits up tonight it’s likely he’ll remain with the Coyotes the rest of the season.

Although it decreases the likelihood, Mueller playing in his 10th NHL game doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of a return to Everett. NHL teams can send players back to juniors up until the NHL trade deadline, though it will continue to count as a year of Mueller’s rookie contract.

Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog

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