Mueller builds Phoenix's future

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:16 PM ET

PHOENIX -- He was their first pick - eighth overall - in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

And so far this season Peter Mueller has been all that and a bag of chips for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Heading into last night's contest against the Edmonton Oilers, Mueller, 19, had 21 goals and 27 assists for 48 points.

"The thing about him is that he's so confident with the puck," said Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky. "He never panics with the puck in his own zone or in the offensive zone. He's hard to get the puck away from. He sees the ice well, he loves to score goals and we've been pleasantly surprised with him."

Mueller, a native of Bloomington, Minnesota, had 78 points in 51 games with the Everett Silvertips last season. He also helped the U.S. national team claim a bronze medal at the world junior hockey championships.

Heading into Coyotes training camp this summer, the six-foot-two, 205-pound centre found himself in a similar situation to that of Oilers forward Sam Gagner.

If he didn't make the team, he would have been sent back to junior.

"He was an in betweener," Gretzky said. "He still had another year of junior so you run the risk of sending him back to junior where he probably would have gotten bored to death, or wonder if we could find him enough ice time here to warrant him staying here with the big team. But he earned his way onto the team."

Mueller and Martin Hanzal, 21, represent the future of the Coyotes organization. And very much like Gagner and Oilers forward Andrew Cogliano, are having impressive seasons helping keep their team within range of a playoff spot.

The Coyotes were just four points behind the Vancouver Canucks for eighth place in the Western Conference going into last night's play.

At the start of the season, they were pegged to finish near the bottom of the standings.

"For me coming into the season, it was definitely a big adjustment, getting used to the speed and getting used to the pace and all that," Mueller said. "But I've been fortunate enough to play with Shane (Doan) pretty much the whole year and that has given me a lot of confidence. He's got such great skill, great leadership and is such a great human being, that he's really helped me out so far. It's been a great year so far and hopefully we can keep playing for another couple of months."

Mueller is currently third in rookie scoring behind Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Niklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals.

His 21 goals were the best among all rookies and also leads all first year players with six power-play markers and 178 shots on net.

"He's so good, but not just as a player, he's a good person," said Doan. "He's well-liked by everybody, you can't find anybody on our team to say a bad thing about him. That's huge as a young guy and one of the reasons for a lot of his success."

"Once I started producing I started settling down and realized that I can play in this league," Mueller said. "As soon as you start being successful and you start playing more games then you start feeling comfortable in the NHL."


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