Burke made good impression on Mueller

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:44 PM ET

In today's business world, sealing a deal over a working breakfast is not that unusual.

But flying from Toronto to Germany to butter your toast while buttering up the person you want working for your company is big league. And when Brian Burke showed up earlier this summer in Cologne to break bread with Marcel Mueller, the Maple Leafs quickly moved up in the free agent winger's short list.

"It makes a big difference," Mueller said Thursday at the MasterCard Centre. "It shows he has a lot of interest in you as a person.

"There were a couple of other NHL teams interested. Brian was the only GM to come over, the others just phoned. It looked like Brian was a strong guy who knows what he wants. He made a big impression on me."

Shortly after the two-hour breakfast, the 22-year-old Mueller agreed to a two-year contract and came over this week to debut in the NHL rookie tournament. Burke also used face-to-face tactics to get to Europe and sign Jonas Gustavsson and most recently, fellow goalie Jussi Rynnas. The latter took a clandestine trip to both Helsinki and then Montreal while Rynnas was touring other NHL cities.

"Marcel is a projected top six winger," Burke said. "He has great hands and mobility for a big man. He's a late bloomer and will likely need time with the Marlies (to start 2010-11)."

Burke insisted that Joe Gibbs, Toronto's European scout, get the lion's share of credit for spotting the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Mueller before the rest of Toronto's scouts had a closer look at the Vancouver Olympics and the world championships where Mueller had some valuable ice time for the German team.

As for Mueller being able to handle big crowds in Toronto, Burke saw him play in front of a record 77,803 at a soccer stadium in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, when the host nation opened the worlds against the U.S.

Mueller was born in Berlin but played much of his club hockey elsewhere in the country, ending in Cologne. He had 56 points in 53 games for the Cologne Sharks, potted six winning goals and had more than 100 penalty minutes. Anyone with triple digits in the PIM column anywhere on the globe is bewitching to the Leafs in this quest to re-make themselves as the Bay St. Bullies.

"I'm a power forward, but I have a little bit of everything in my game," Mueller said. "This is my first time over here. This is a new time and I'm very excited to be here. I don't know anyone except Korbinian Holzer (a 2006 John Ferguson pick the Leafs got around to signing this year)."

Burke's last stab at an unknown Euro was fourth-liner Swede Rickard Wallin, who was something less than advertised in the scoring department. Mueller certainly has the size, but big German league numbers might not translate very well here.

"We will see," Mueller said of his chances at the main Leaf camp next week. "But if I thought I wasn't ready for this step, I wouldn't have come over. I want to play in the NHL."


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