Everett Silvertips defenceman Mirco Mueller honed his skills in Europe before making the trek to North America this season.
The tall and lanky Swiss defender knew the journey across the pond would open up his game for the many scouts keeping tabs on his season, along with undergoing a crash course in the differing styles played between the two prominent hockey-playing continents.
Mueller enjoyed a successful first season in the Western Hockey League, helping the Silvertips attain their goal of reaching the playoffs. As a result of the team’s success, Mueller may now enjoy the one personal goal he set out before the season – by being drafted in the first-round by an NHL team.
In this conversation with Randy Gorman, Mueller outlines the differences between hockey in North America compared to Europe, his biggest adjustments coming over to Everett and the sport his mother played professionally.
McKeen’s: Where did you play your minor hockey?
Mueller: First, I played in my hometown of Winterthur, Switzerland, and then on to Kloten, all in Switzerland before joining the Everett Silvertips.
McKeen’s: What was the biggest adjustment you had to make coming to North America?
Mueller: Just the caliber of hockey. I mean, the players and teams -- they really compete hard, and of course there is a lot more games and the schedule is tough.
McKeen’s: Was there any set goals that you wanted to achieve by the team or individually?
Mueller: Individually, I would like say that I would like to be drafted in the first round in the NHL draft this June, so that is a set goal. Team-wise goals, I just want to help the team make the playoffs.
McKeen’s: Does it bother you that there a lot of NHL scouts watching you all the time?
Mueller: Not really. There is always a lot of scouts each game watching you. You really can’t think about that too much. I just go out and play my game and do my best.
McKeen’s: What is the biggest difference, in your opinion, between playing European hockey and playing here in North America?
Mueller: I think because the ice surface is smaller, the checking and physical play is tougher here in North America. You have to be ready all the time and be stronger, and to always keep your head up out there as the speed of the game requires you to be sharp.
McKeen’s: How important is off-ice training to develop core strength, in order to win puck battles that require physical strength and toughness?
Mueller: I think it’s very important. I mean, on one hand, you can win a lot of battles for pucks, and secondly, you can protect yourself positionally from blind side hits a little better if you are stronger.
McKeen’s: What is the strongest part of your game, and what are the things you want to work on?
Mueller: I think the strongest part of my game is my hockey sense, as I anticipate a lot of plays developing before they happen. I think my D-zone play is very positive. I like to use my stick a lot to poke check and deflect and break up passes. I think my puck-handling could be improved, because I have a long stick, it becomes more a balancing act.
McKeen’s: Do you pay any attention to the rankings, and where in particular you may rank?
Mueller: No, not really. I guess with most teams they will have different needs, many would be looking for offense, which could include scoring forwards, other teams are looking for defensemen. So, really, it’s hard to say what will happen at the draft.
McKeen’s: In recent years there have been many young Swiss players that have come over to play major junior hockey in Canada. With such players like Nino Niederreiter, Luca Sbisa, and Sven Baertschi playing in the WHL and all being drafted by NHL teams. Has this helped you, in making your decision to come over here to play junior hockey in North America?
Mueller: Yes, it definitely helped me make up my mind in going this route to help my future career. The hockey and schedule is so similar to the NHL. You have the best calibre of play, and you must be prepared mentally and physically every game.
McKeen’s: You have improved a lot defensively, especially in the second half of the season, have you been working hard on your defensive zone coverage?
Mueller: Well, I’ve worked on that all year. It seems to get easier the more games I play. It’s a routine thing. I’ve worked hard with coaching staff and it seems to be paying off in the second half.
McKeen’s: How much international hockey experience have you had, and has that helped you in developing your game?
Mueller: Well, yes, I have played in many international tournaments like the U-17s and U-16s in various locations. The level of competition is top notch and has definitely helped me sharpen my skills.
McKeen’s: When you were growing up, was there any particular NHL or pro player that you admired and wanted to emulate your game after?
Mueller: I always admired Nicklas Lidstrom -- he was a great captain. He was a solid player both offensively, and defensively. He was also a leader on and off the ice. So, I would like to play and pattern my play after him.
McKeen’s: What do you like to do off the ice? Were there any other sports you played?
Mueller: Yes, I played a lot of handball back in Europe, because I took the game up as my mother played competitively. But hockey is my passion.