While the Rangers have done their best these past two seasons to stockpile depth, and make sure they're never shortchanged at the NHL level, it was also clear this offseason that the organization made a concerted effort to get better at the AHL level. Hartford was coming off a year in which they missed the postseason, albeit with some key players like Cam Talbot, and J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast for extended periods.
One of the players the team acquired this summer whom many assumed might help bolster the Wolf Pack's roster was Chris Mueller. But with Derek Stepan out with a leg injury, and the Rangers power play off to an anemic start, Mueller will get a crack at—for the time being—the Rangers NHL club.
But who exactly is Mueller?
A 28-year-old undrafted center out of Michigan State, Mueller played four full seasons of college hockey, appearing in 166 games for the Spartans, a pretty high number.
Where Mueller got his professional start was when he signed a one-year deal with the Predators in 2010. Playing for the Milwaukee Admirals, Mueller scored 37 goals in 134 minor league games over his first two seasons, and made his NHL debut in 2010-11. Mueller spent time between both Milwaukee and Nashville that season, playing 15 games for the Predators, and 67 for the Admirals.
The following season was a bit of the same, as Mueller again spent most of his time in the AHL (73 games) while getting a cup of coffee in Nashville (four games).
It was 2012-13 when Mueller finally scored his first NHL goal, and played 18 games for the Preds.
Mueller then signed with the Stars that offseason, and while he didn't make much of an impact at the NHL level (nine scoreless games) he was very effective for their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars. In the regular season, Mueller scored 25 goals and posted 57 points in 60 games, while scoring six goals and tallying 11 points in 19 playoff games. The Texas Stars would win the Calder Cup, and Mueller scored one goal in the five games of the series.
The biggest thing Mueller has going for him right now in terms of how he fits into the Rangers plan is his ability to play in the middle, and be productive on the power play. In 2011-12 while playing for the Milwaukee Admirals, Mueller netted 11 goals on the power play in 73 games played. Last year in Texas, he netted 15 of his 25 goals on the power play, not a number to dismiss.
Mueller skated on the team's second power play unit in practice on Saturday, and if preseason is any indication, Mueller simply knows where to be on the power play, and how to find the puck.
Mueller may just be a fill-in until Stepan returns in what's expected to be five more games, and a solution to moving Martin St. Louis back to the wing. But in the meantime, expect Mueller to be visible on the power play, but not much else. In that Saturday practice, he skated on the fourth line with Tanner Glass and Ryan Malone, two other players being used more in situations, with Glass on the penalty kill, and Malone also on the power play.