During Brian Burke's tenure as General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has been adamant in adding a player out of the power forward mould to his top six; someone with size, skill and scoring prowess, and if they happen to be a truculent sort, so be it.
Over the past three years Leafs fans have seen several players attempt to assume that mantle. We saw Christian Hanson try hard but not produce any results. We saw Brayden Irwin lumber up and down the ice like someone put his legs on backwards and then slit an Achilles tendon. We saw Luca Caputi shuttled in and out of the lineup and never get an opportunity to string results together. The team drafted Tyler Biggs this past summer to hopefully one day be that player.
There is one other man who might yet step into those shoes. Slowly developing on the Toronto Marlies, the big German Marcel Mueller has quietly continued to improve and round out his game. He has been given the opportunity to fly under the radar, with attention placed primarily on Joe Colborne and Nazem Kadri's development.
At 6'4" and 212 lbs, Mueller has all the physical tools necessary to be an imposing power forward or the Maple Leafs, and is working on developing a consistent scoring touch to earn his place in the lineup. He could be one of the many Leaf forwards that push the incumbents for a spot in the Top 9 next season. Mueller is our selection at #12 in th Top 25 Under 25.
Mueller signed with the Maple Leafs in the summer of 2010 as a free agent. The 6'4" German had played in his country's top league, the DEL, for the past four season, showing significant improvement each year. He scored 8 points in 36 games for Eisbaren Berlin as a 19 year old, then improved each of the following years with Kolner, first to 13 points, then 25 and finally 56 points in 53 games before being signed by the Leafs.
In 2010-11 he ventured over to North America and joined the Toronto Marlies. Mueller had a slow adjustment to the North American game, going pointless in his first 9 games, and scoring just one goal and five points in the first 22 games of the season. Known as a physical player in Germany (he accumulated 122 PIMs in 2009-10), Mueller had difficulty adjusting to the more physcial nature of the AHL.
Through December and January, Mueller really began to show his potential. scoring 18 points over the next 23 games and becoming a more reliable scoring option. He was rewarded for his strong play with a three game stint with the Leafs in mid-January. His offence seemed to dry up after that, and missed the entire month of March due to a concussion. He finished his first season in the AHL with 14 goals and 19 assists, for 33 points in 58 games.
With the Marlies for a second season, Mueller came flying out of the gate, avoiding the early struggles that plagued him last year. Playing alongside Colborne and Joey Crabb, Mueller accumulated 18 points through 18 games in October and November. Mueller has been a mainstay in the Marlies' top six this season, playing regularly on the powerplay and using his big body presence to create havoc in front of the goaltender and create room for his teammates.
Inconsistency continues to be an issue for the German, and since his torrid start to the season he has just 7 points in 17 games during a period where many of the Marlies key offensive weapons have begun to struggle for offence. The Marlies will hope that he can return to his early season form as the Marlies begin to push for the playoffs.
Finding a spot for Mueller in this list was a difficult job. Compared to the young prospects that have popped up in the countdown recently, Mueller is certainly a more established player, closer to achieiving his potential as a professional. Yet his ceiling as a player is probably lower than that of McKegg, who he finishes just ahead of. Mueller will also be turning 24 this summer, so the time is probably coming soon where he needs to make the leap to the NHL.
Having said that, the Leafs have a distinct desire to add size to their top nine forwards, and Mueller, a skillful player who knows how to use his size to create space, is something of a dark horse to challenge for a roster spot. A strong finish to the current season could go towards solidifying his place going forwards.
Mueller's rankings are a bit of a mixed bag. No two voters gave him the same ranking, and they spanned anywhere from 9th to 18th, as he just edges out McKegg. PFACNF explains his decision to put Mueller down at #17.
When ranking Meuller one thing stood out to me: He has yet to play an NHL regular season game. While he's only 23 he has played over 80 games with the Marlies. With a Leafs line-up that has often lacked some size up front it surprises me that the guy hasn't got a shot yet. While players like Colborne, Kadri, Crabb, and Boyce all deserved their call-ups, I'd have to think that if Burke et. al see him as a legitimate NHL forward he'd have been given a shot by now. While he's not exactly setting the AHL on fire he has decent offensive output and definitely has NHL size. Add in the fact that he has played against men in both Germany and at the Olympics and his absence from the NHL becomes more concerning. I understand that he has struggled with some injuries but the fact that he has yet to earn a shot with the Leafs dropped him down in my rankings.