Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Insider Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of NHL training camp.
Name/Position: Mirco Mueller, defenseman
Contract status: Signed through 2016-17 ($894,167 cap hit)
2013-14 year in review: The Sharks’ best prospect not yet in the NHL, Mirco Mueller got his first taste of professional hockey when he skated in nine games for AHL Worcester late in the year, tallying two assists and a -5 rating. Prior to that, Mueller finished with five goals and 22 assists for 27 points in his second season with Everett (WA) of the Western Hockey League.
2014-15 outlook: A back injury hindered the six-foot-three Mueller during his inaugural training camp with the Sharks last year, but he’ll return this time around with his eye on a roster spot. It’s a bit premature to pencil him into that third defense pair, but he’ll get every opportunity to prove that he belongs there ahead of guys like Matt Tennyson, Taylor Doherty and Taylor Fedun. He already has an edge over those three since he’s a left-handed shot, and the Sharks are already loaded up on the right side with Brent Burns, Jason Demers and Justin Braun (Tennyson, Doherty and Fedun all shoot right, too).
Since the day he was drafted in 2013 with the 18th overall selection, Mueller –- who reportedly bulked up a bit since last year -– has been compared with Marc-Edouard Vlasic as a guy that is strong on his skates, adept at moving the puck and can play in all situations. “He’s really someone I look up to, and I want to learn from him,” Mueller said of Vlasic at last year’s camp. Considering the Sharks would like to become a younger team, getting Mueller to the NHL as quickly as possible -- even if he's bound to make some rookie mistakes -- could make sense.
If Mueller falters in camp or the Sharks decide he's not mentally or physically ready, he’ll have to return to his junior club, and he’s not eligible to start the season in Worcester due to his young age. Still, my best guess is that the Swiss native will make the opening night lineup, and he’ll be playing ahead of insurance guy Scott Hannan.