Three games, that is what lies in front of the Coyotes beginning Thursday night with the Anaheim Ducks and ending Saturday November 3rd with the same Ducks. Not only three games against division rivals (the Coyotes entertain Dallas on the 27th) but if young rookie Peter Mueller plays in all three games it will bring his total number of NHL regular season games played to nine. Why is this important? According to NHL rules a player under the age of 20 with remaining junior eligibility is left with two options, return to his junior club (only if he has played in 9 or less NHL games) or stay with the NHL club. The long and the short of it is The Great One and his pundits must make a decision on Peter Mueller’s future in the next week.
Early on Mueller was buried on the fourth line with very little offensive talent around him and it showed in his production. He was averaging less than 10 minutes a game and was a healthy scratch against the Coyotes loss to the Minnesota Wild. Since the healthy scratch Mueller has earned ice time with the top line of Reinprecht and Doan and increased power play time. Peter responded to his scratch by scoring his first NHL goal on the power play on a rebound in front of the net. Then against Detroit he set up Reinprecht's first goal of the season with a beautiful cross ice pass. Since his benching he has been skating with a new found purpose. He seems to be working harder, getting in the corners and doing the little things it takes to succeed. What does this point to? Perhaps burying a kid with great offensive upside on the fourth line to start his NHL career was a mistake, and it would seem that it is evident when he is paired with offensively talented players he is motivated, and able, to make plays.
My take is such that another year in the juniors with Everett would only slow Peter’s progression, let him stay with the big club and along with Martin Hanzal let him gain a full season of NHL experience and establish himself in this league. That way when the 08-09 season rolls around and freshman phenom Kyle Turris comes to the desert Mueller and Hanzal both will have learned from a year in the bigs and be able to bring Kyle along faster.
That being said, if the plan is to bring him along slowly and place him with players lacking offensive talent it will only retard his development in the league and so perhaps he would be better served playing in Everett for one more season rather than getting 9 minutes of ice time with fourth line talent. Pair him with Doan and Reinprecht and watch him flourish. The lines I would have until Gratton is ready to return would be.