Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which Kevin Kurz will highlight a different Sharks player every day leading up to the start of training camp.
Name/Position: Mirco Mueller, D
2015-16 cap hit/contract: $894,166, signed through 2016-17
2014-15 year in review: The Sharks’ first round draft pick in 2013, Mirco Mueller made the club out of training camp and played in 39 games with 1 goal, 3 assists, 10 penalty minutes and a -8 rating.
Mueller played in 24 of the first 27 games, experiencing his ups and downs as a rookie. When it became evident that he wasn’t an everyday NHL player just yet, the Sharks allowed him to play in the World Junior Championships for Switzerland. He suffered a wrist injury in the tournament and didn’t play in January, and late in the season broke a finger, keeping him out of the final eight games.
2015-16 outlook: Headed into camp Mueller is likely penciled in as a third pair defenseman with Brenden Dillon, but he’ll have to fight to keep that spot. Unlike last season, the 20-year-old is eligible to start the season with the AHL Barracuda, and some time in the minors would probably do him some good. Mueller is still growing, and has apparently put on more weight in the offseason. Playing against lesser competition while still getting used to his body seems like the logical move.
There will be a few players pushing for Mueller’s job. Matt Tennyson is on a one-way contract, so he’ll be given a long look. Dylan DeMelo is another player the Sharks organization is high on, as evidenced by his recall last season (DeMelo is still waiting to make his NHL debut). If the Sharks are looking to ice one right-hander and one left-hander on its defense pairs, as so many coaches do, the lefty Mueller could be further disadvantaged as Tennyson and DeMelo both shoot right.
If Mueller starts in the AHL, it shouldn’t be considered a demotion -– that he was with the Sharks most of last year is more of an indictment on the front office for rushing him to the NHL, and the scouting staff, for failing to provide organizational depth on the blue line (high round picks like Nick Petrecki and Taylor Doherty were supposed to be those players, but they didn’t pan out). Mueller looks like he has the talent and demeanor to be a solid NHL defenseman, but it will probably take some more time.