Through three preseason games, a number of New Jersey Devils have already made a positive impression, increasing the anticipation for the regular season. Between practice, scrimmages and the games themselves, some players are appearing more NHL ready than others, and as such, the coaches are using them in larger roles while some veteran players are being rested so that they are prepared for the regular season.
One player who has seen a seemingly diminished role is defenseman Mirco Mueller. Mueller has been with the Devils since the summer of 2017, after New Jersey sent a 2nd and 4th round pick to the San Jose Sharks. His first season in New Jersey saw him only appear in 28 games and record four assists; he did miss some time due to injury. His most recent campaign saw 11 points in 53 games, despite another injury coming late in the season.
So Mueller would appear to be trending upward, correct? More points, more games played, seemingly larger role. Not so fast; in both of his preseason appearances so far, Mueller has played on the third pairing, and honestly in my opinion hasn’t exactly looked solid. He’s still giving the puck away a lot in his own zone, and for someone with limited offensive upside, that’s the exact opposite of ideal.
More troubling to me is the fact that Mueller played on the third pair against Montreal behind a pairing of Colton White and Matt Tennyson; even if Mueller was seen by the Devils’ staff as a bottom pairing shutdown guy, wouldn’t he at least be playing over Tennyson, whom we all know was signed to help fill out Binghamton’s roster? While he did play two of the approximately three minutes that the Devils were on the PK, he still played less than Tennyson, who was playing the same side of the ice. While preseason certainly doesn’t everything (or sometimes even anything) it is a troubling site, especially when you consider the numbers on the back end.
The Devils already have seven defensemen on NHL deals, and Ty Smith is pushing for a roster spot as well; if Smith makes the team, that’s eight defenders that Jersey’s Team would have on the roster. While it certainly hasn’t hurt some teams to carry two scratched defenders, it’s not a traditional situation either, and the Devils may need to carry two extra forwards due to having more talent/depth up front.
Additionally, Mueller’s underlying numbers are shrinking as his sample set gets larger:
I have to wonder if there’s a correlation with his preseason usage versus his numbers going down last season. While the charts may not be pretty, it’s apparent that Mirco is still doing something right in his own end, as his defense numbers are still well into the blue; we already knew he wasn’t going to be useful on the power play, so we can ignore the charts on the right.
My concerns are that the Devils have some other defenders coming through the pipeline, and even Connor Carrick has seemed to pass Mueller on the depth chart. Between those factors and the fact that Mueller hasn’t really shown much of substance when on the ice, I could see him being waived this season if the Devils choose to carry only seven D-men. If he does manage to stay the season with New Jersey, I don’t know if he’ll be seeing the ice much, thanks to the Devils addition of P.K. Subban; while they don’t play the same side, it still pushes Mueller further down the depth chart.
Again, if Mueller stays in New Jersey this season, I can’t help but shake the feeling it is his last; he’s a Restricted Free Agent again at the end of this season, and I could see the Devils “Stefan Noesen-ing” him even with the possibility of Sami Vatanen and Andy Greene not returning. He just has not been a difference maker, and the Devils need to use whatever cap available on defensemen to try and find players that will make a difference, be it free agents or prospects.
Are you a fan of Mirco Mueller or do you believe him to be expendable? Do you think the Devils will cut ties with him either during or after the season? If the team does waive him, do you believe he gets claimed? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!