SAN JOSE -- One of the more encouraging signs in the Sharks’ fairly painless victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday was the debut of rookie defenseman Mirco Mueller.
The 19-year-old was paired with Brent Burns, and skated nearly 18 minutes in the 4-0 win with a +1 rating and two blocked shots. He was also featured on the second power play unit, playing two minutes and 47 seconds with a man advantage, manning one of the points with Jason Demers.
“Mirco has earned the right to play there,” Todd McLellan said. “He’s earned the right to be in the lineup. He’s had a tremendous camp, and he and everybody else in the locker room knows that. He wasn’t gifted anything. As we move forward if he continues to play the way he’s capable of, and he’s showing, he’ll get more and more.”
Mueller told me before camp that one of his goals was to become a little meaner, especially in front of the net and in the slot. “You can obviously improve everywhere, but I think if there’s one part, it’s the toughness around the net and in the corners,” he said on Sep. 12.
If the first game is any indication, he’s doing just fine in that regard.
Just before the Sharks took a 1-0 first period lead, Mueller took exception to Los Angeles’ Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis crashing the net. Mueller pushed and shoved with the pair, leading to a scrum in front of goalie Antti Niemi, who froze the puck.
McLellan credited Mueller for playing with an edge, but also the team’s new leadership group for preparing the rookie defenseman for what to expect come game time.
“The emotion in the rivalry between the two teams is high. There is a case where the leaders probably did a good job in preparing him for that environment, preparing him for the type of rivalry that exists,” McLellan said.
The last time the Sharks had such a highly regarded young rookie in the lineup on the blue line was Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who broke into the league as a teenager in 2006. On draft day, when Mueller was chosen 18th overall by San Jose, Vlasic was the player that the Swiss native was immediately compared to during the TSN broadcast even before he pulled a Sharks sweater over his head for the first time.
Now that Vlasic’s seen the 6-foot-3, 205-pound kid in action, he commented on the perceived similarity.
“I told him [Wednesday] night, you look like a young Marc-Edouard Vlasic,” Vlasic joked.
“It’s nice to see another 19-year-old defenseman and come in and play very well. He kind of reminds me a lot of myself in the way he plays. He’s a solid player, and he’ll be a very good player for this team for many years.”