Programming note: Blues-Sharks coverage starts Saturday night at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California with Sharks Pregame Live
SAN JOSE – Sitting as a healthy scratch for six of the nine games isn’t an ideal situation for an NHL rookie.
Fortunately for the Sharks, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to get defenseman Mirco Mueller some playing time, even if it isn’t in a teal sweater. The club confirmed an earlier report here on Friday that the 19-year-old would be permitted to play for Switzerland in the upcoming World Junior Championships in Montreal and Toronto.
The tournament runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, but Mueller, who has played in the tournament in each of the last two years, is expected to play in an exhibition game against Canada on Dec. 23.
“I think it’s going to be a good tournament for me. Great opportunity,” said Mueller, who didn't have a flight booked yet. “I’ve played in it twice, it’s a great thing representing your country. I’m excited.”
[RELATED: Sharks' Mueller to play in World Juniors]
General manager Doug Wilson said: “It’s a great opportunity to experience and enhance your game, and he’s a tremendously important player for us for both now and the future.”
The former first round draft pick in 2013, who now has 24 games of NHL experience with one goal and two assists, will be expected to lead his country that has long odds to earn a medal. That factored into the decision.
Wilson said: “He’ll be a leader. He’ll be their go-to guy. … They need a guy like him to lead them.”
“The Swiss team is not usually one of the favorites in the tournament, but we’re still trying to get a medal,” said Mueller, who will be joined on the Swiss roster by fellow Sharks prospect Noah Rod. “That’s what my personal goal is going into this tournament. I’m going to try to lead the team as good as possible.”
It’s also beneficial that the tournament is in North America, reducing the travel time and allowing Mueller to compete on the smaller ice surface compared to European rinks. Wilson, along with scouting director Tim Burke, will be among the Sharks’ personnel in attendance.
Wilson expects the experience to aid in Mueller’s development.
“This league is full of young players that have come in and really accelerated their input on a team. A lot of it because of things like the World Juniors, and being able to compete in that environment against other top players just fast-tracks their evolution as players,” Wilson said.
“This league is very conducive to young players coming in and contributing at a high level very early on. We think he’s capable of the same thing.”