Chris Mueller from Rags to Riches Story
Feb 24, 2011
By Jason Karnosky
Throughout the American Hockey League, there is a wealth of great stories.
Many of those stories involve unheralded prospects that when given a chance to play on a nightly basis in the AHL, eventually find monumental success in their hockey playing futures.
But few scripts can match the rags to riches story of Milwaukee Admirals forward Chris Mueller. Despite going undrafted and not even making the Admirals out of training camp in 2009, Mueller has flourished into one of Milwaukee’s best forwards and has earned two promotions to the National Hockey League with the Nashville Predators.
“Chris Mueller represents a great story,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “Now it’s up to him to realize that he has come a long way and that he’s just starting a long career that will hopefully take him to the National Hockey League (on a permanent basis).”
Despite his anonymous pedigree, Mueller hardly fit the profile of a hockey player who deserved to go undrafted by the NHL.
The West Seneca, New York, native starred in college from 2004 to 2008, amassing 42 goals and 104 career points as a forward at Michigan State University. Mueller served as his team’s alternate captain during his junior and senior seasons, helping lead the Spartans to the school’s third national championship in 2007.
After turning professional in the spring of 2008, Mueller bounced around the AHL and ECHL. On April 11, 2008, Mueller made his professional debut with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. Mueller would later make stops in Cleveland and Johnstown before finally finding a home in Milwaukee last season.
However, it took time for Mueller to make an impression on Admirals coach Lane Lambert.
“I was only an invite to Milwaukee’s training camp last season,” Mueller said. “But (Lambert) told me that my first step was to become a regular in the AHL and to be in the line up every day.”
Mueller started 2009 in Cincinnati, but rattled off four goals in his first five games with the Cyclones to earn an AHL promotion on October 31. He has not returned to the ECHL since.
Mueller finished the 2009-2010 campaign scoring 13 goals and 27 points for the Admirals. He also played a vital role in Milwaukee’s Calder Cup playoff push, scoring three goals and five points in his team’s seven-game series loss to Chicago.
“The next step for me was to start getting noticed by Nashville,” Mueller said. “(This season) I started to get on their radar.”
Mueller started 2010-2011 slowly, scoring just one goal in his first 13 games (his only point during that time). But he started heating up during a November 12 clash at Lake Erie, scoring a pair of goals in the Admirals 4-0 blanking of the Monsters. He finished Milwaukee’s marathon 10-game road trip with seven goals and nine points.
Now contributing on a consistent basis, the Predators’ brass could not help but take notice of the Mueller’s steadily improving play.
“You always think that maybe something’s going to happen and that’s what you work for,” Mueller said. “But I knew that people in Nashville were starting to talk to about me. (Plus) my teammates kept telling me that if I kept playing the way I was, that the Predators would not be able to deny me that opportunity.”
Of course, it did not hurt Mueller’s cause that his biggest supporter, Lambert, kept chirping in Trotz’s ear about the budding prospect he had in Milwaukee.
“Lane Lambert kept telling me that Mueller was the most consistent forward on the Admirals all year,” Trotz said. “(Chris) has really worked really hard to become a good player and to get himself into the mix.”
But rather than just relying on word of mouth, Trotz and Predators General Manager David Poile decided to take in Milwaukee’s December 21 clash with Chicago to see him for themselves.
Mueller finished with one assist and took a game high four shots in the Admirals 3-2 shoot out win over the Wolves.
Trotz walked away from the night impressed what he saw in Mueller and his teammates.
“I’m really happy with our young defense in Milwaukee,” Trotz said.
“Up front, I really like (Gabriel) Bourque and (Chris) Mueller is really starting to come along.
Six days later, Mueller’s hockey life changed forever. Injuries to Nashville forwards Steve Sullivan and Martin Erat left a gaping hole on the Predators’ offensive depth chart. On December 27 Nashville decided to upgrade Mueller’s contract to a two-way, AHL-NHL deal.
“Mueller was a guy who was on an American Hockey League contract all year with Milwaukee,” Trotz said. “But he has a really good skill set and a really good work ethic, so we decided to put him on an NHL deal.”
Mueller was stunned when he heard about the promotion.
“I thought I was working my way toward a new contract, but being called up was a huge surprise,” Mueller said. “It was very overwhelming at first.”
On December 28, 2010 Mueller made his National Hockey League debut with Nashville in a home matchup with Dallas. The freshly minted Predators forward saw three minutes and 17 seconds of ice time in a 4-2 Nashville loss.
Despite his limited action, Mueller impressed fellow Milwaukee call up Linus Klasen.
“It’s great seeing him up here,” said Klasen during his time with the Predators. “He’s a guy who I’ve played a lot with in Milwaukee and I always look forward to playing with him in games.”
In the days that followed, Nashville slowly got healthier, but Mueller remained, enjoying a prolonged first stint in the NHL. Mueller collected his first point with an assist in the Predators’ 6-3 loss to Chicago. Then he doubled his offensive output two nights later in Phoenix with a pair of assists in a 4-2 Nashville victory over the Coyotes.
Mueller finished a 15-game run in NHL on February 5, when he was returned Milwaukee. But that has not diminished the Admirals second leading goal scorer’s spirits. Since rejoining Milwaukee, Mueller has contributed four goals and seven points, helping his club post a 6-2-1 mark in that span.
“It was a dream come true playing in the NHL,” Mueller said. “A lot was expected up there, but it was pretty much the same thing as playing in Milwaukee, just at a different level.”
With Mueller’s help, Milwaukee has opened up some breathing room at the top of the AHL’s Western Conference. But wherever Mueller future lies for the rest of the season and beyond, that team’s fans can be rest assured that no one will work harder on the ice than the Admirals’ favorite feel good story.
“Whether I get called up or not, my attitude isn’t going to change,” Mueller said. “I’ve seen how hard the guys in the NHL work every day to stay up at that level, (and I want) to be a guy who has what it takes to be there on a regular basis.”
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