(HockeyStL) -- If anyone has the motivation to make the Blues’ roster this year, it is Peter Mueller. The center comes into training camp with a chip on his shoulder, with something to prove to the NHL world, and the Blues have provided him with what he calls the perfect opportunity.
“I think you look at the organization, you look at the team and the success they have had over the last 4-5 years, I think it has really been a powerhouse team,” said Mueller. “For them to show interest in me, it was a really big belief on my part that they believe in me and that I can come in and help.”
Mueller joined the Blues in the offseason, signing a two-way deal with a club. The 26-year old forward spent last season with the Swiss League’s Kloten, but felt it was time to return to North America, granted an NHL team would take a chance on him. The Blues obliged, contacting Mueller while he was in Europe and expressing their interest.
“I was quite shocked, to be honest with you, being in Europe and getting this phone call saying that they’re interested in me,” Mueller explained. “It was really a cool experience.”
Mueller saw the Blues as a contending team and when he heard from general manager Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock that, in their eyes, he could bring something of value to the team, he knew it was where he was meant to be.
“I think it was the best situation for me to put myself in,” said Mueller. “It was the best chance for a championship, for a Cup. They’ve got a great track record and if they see something in me that can help this club push forward and get to the playoffs and ultimately win the Stanley Cup, I take that with a great deal of pride.”
But it won’t be easy for Mueller to make the team out of training camp, as the Blues have a multitude of players vying for a just a few spots. Mueller will be competing with around 5-6 players for 1-2 roster spots.
“You’ve got to be ready for whatever happens and I knew that accepting the two-way,” said Mueller. “I’ve got to try to rebuild myself. Whatever happens, happens. But at the end of the day, I know I’m in the right spot.”
Mueller, who was the No. 8 draft pick by Phoenix in 2006, has seen his career spiral due to several concussions and their lingering symptoms. The forward has tried several times to rebound from the injuries, but to no success. That is, until last season in Europe where Mueller posted 24 goals, 46 points in 49 games, which was good for second in the league.
“I thought it was a great experience for me to go over to Europe and experience that level of play and get back to hockey,” said Mueller. “At the time it was a great fit for me. Now, coming back over here is another big step for me to get back to where I was. It’s almost like I’m starting over.”
The consistent scoring has done wonders for Mueller’s morale and it may give him the boost he needs to propel himself onto St. Louis’ roster this season.
“If you talk to anyone who puts the puck in the net, you get 20 goals anywhere and you are feeling good; you are feeling confident with the puck,” Mueller said. “I haven’t felt that in a long time, probably my first year. To put pucks in the net and to put up points was great so I’m riding that confidence from last year into this year.”
Mueller isn’t only coming into camp with confidence, but also with full health, which is something he hasn’t had in a long time.
“Knock on wood, it’s been great,” Mueller said. “I came back in Colorado and I only played 20 games and I was still trying to get the feel for the game back. The lockout season didn’t really help. There was no opportunity for me over here and that brought me to Europe.”
But the road to recovery hasn’t been easy for Mueller, who also had high confidence and expectations when he broke into the league seven years ago.
“It was tough,” he said. “It’s tough to really think about it because it happened so long ago. It’s been like seven years now since my first year in the league. Time flies, it really does. The concussions happened so quick and all, but to be standing here and to get this opportunity it really is a good feeling for myself.”
Mueller’s most recent season in the NHL was in 2012-13 when he played 43 games with the Florida Panthers in the lockout-shortened season. Mueller posted 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) with the Panthers, but was not brought back the following year. Many would be surprised if Mueller made the Blues’ roster out of camp. One person, perhaps the most important advocate for the forward, head coach Ken Hitchcock would not be stunned.
“Watch Peter make this club,” Hitchcock told a media member.
“For him to say that, that really gives me more motivation to not prove him wrong and to prove I can stick with this team,” Mueller said when he was told of Hitchcock’s words.
And this year may be the one where Mueller makes it back to where he has always felt he belongs. He is certainly feeling good for the first time in a long time, and is eager to accept the challenge issued to him by the team. It could be a perfect match.
“It is a challenge,” Mueller admitted. “I have to fight for a spot. I have to try to make my name put out there. But it just comes with working hard. When I get an opportunity, I try to make the best of it. I plan on shooting a lot, trying to create opportunities, but most importantly just try to make the team better in any way I can. It’s going to be tough but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”