It would have been easy for Peter Mueller to skip Wednesday’s informal workout in Pompano Beach. After all, the new Panthers forward said he had a noon flight to catch to spend Thanksgiving in Minnesota.
Mueller piled into his Chevy Avalanche at 11:15 a.m. and headed toward the airport.
But not before participating in the workout — he didn’t even sneak out early.
Mueller, 24, signed a one-year deal with the Panthers on July 1 and can’t wait to get this season started. Mueller hasn’t missed a workout since arriving in South Florida.
On Wednesday, he made his flight. Barely. He would much rather have been suiting up for the Panthers that night. The NHL lockout, now in its third month, has prevented Mueller and the rest of the Panthers from being able to do what they love.
“It’s tough. I came in here ready to go,” said Mueller, who has spent parts of the past three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.
“This is the best I’ve felt since my rookie year. It’s kind of tough to stand here right now. We’re putting in all the work and not seeing the return of it. That’s tough. But I’m optimistic. I’m hoping something gets done real soon.”
A first-round draft pick (eighth overall) of the Coyotes in 2006, Mueller’s talent level has never been questioned.
Mueller is viewed as a potential front-line scorer for the right team, and it looked like Colorado was going to be his home for a long time. Mueller was traded to the Avs in 2010 after scoring 39 goals with 68 assists in 207 games with Phoenix.
In Colorado, concussion issues sidelined his career progression. Mueller missed all but 15 games of the 2009-10 season and all of 2010-11 because of concussions, coming back to play in 32 games last year.
Mueller scored two goals in a game against the Panthers on Jan. 18 — just four games back from his most recent concussion problem.
“That shows you someone was paying attention that night,” Stephen Weiss joked.
Mueller, who was medically cleared to play last year, said he hasn’t been slowed by the concussions since then and added he’s healthy and ready to play.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” he said. “The past couple years have been tough. It’s not anyone’s dream situation. If you talk to any athlete and tell them they will miss that kind of time, it’s going to hurt in some way. But everything is good now. I may sound like a broken record, but everything is behind me. I’m just excited to play.”
When the offseason came, Mueller found the Panthers ready to offer a contract. It’s most definitely a fresh start. The Panthers, who watched Mueller work out prior to the lockout, believe they pulled off a coup by getting him at such a discount.
“I’ve watched him for a while. He’s a super-skilled guy who is going to fit in here nicely,” Weiss said. “He’s a perfect fit, a guy who will fill in for [Mikael Samuelsson] very well. They are the same kind of player, very smart, a [right-handed shot]. Hopefully he can fill those shoes there.
“For me, a guy with that kind of talent, play him with some guys who can score and make plays. That’s where he’s at his best. We’re happy to have him. He’s a talented player who can score goals. That’s always needed.”
Said Mueller: “This team we have here in Florida is so talented. You see what was accomplished here last year. I was thrilled to be able to come here and sign on for that. And it’s nice to be able to walk outside every day in shorts.”
Mueller isn’t the only one ready to put this labor strife behind him and start playing hockey.
When and if this season does start, the Panthers plan on finally hanging their 2012 Southeast Division championship banner from the rafters at BB&T Center in Sunrise.
It would be the first hockey-performance banner to be unveiled at the Sunrise arena and first for the team since its 1996 Eastern Conference championship banner was won at Miami Arena.
The Panthers want to carry over some momentum from last year. Adding an offensive talent such as Mueller should help once things get going.
“It’s a shame what has happened,” defenseman Mike Weaver said. “The Panthers organization must be very disappointed that there is a lockout.”
“The fans here, I feel for them. We feel the same way they do. It’s a shame across the board. We had such a great feeling from the playoffs. That Game 7 was amazing. Our fans were amazing. I hope we get this thing taken care of and start playing. We don’t want to lose our momentum from last year.”