Ask Panthers forward Peter Mueller about his recent goal-scoring streak three goals in three games and youll get a variation on the standard just-happy-to-be-here answer.
But Mueller probably means it more than most.
Obviously, it was a little bit of a tough go the first four games, he said Saturday. Its nice when you get some progress and put up a couple of points here or there. To be honest, Im happy Im getting a regular shift each night and to be playing every night.
My goal just coming into the season was play 48 games, Muller said Saturday. If I could do that and play hard each and every shift, help my team, Ill be happy.
Usually, its fourth-liners fighting to stay out of healthy scratch territory, not former first-round picks who are just happy to be here seven years after being drafted.
And Muller was such a hot prospect, the Upper Deck trading card company put him on the boxes of its SPx cards, an upper middle-class release for hockey card collectors. For comparison, Ottawas Jason Spezza and the Islanders John Tavares graced SPx boxes early in their NHL careers.
But you gain a different perspective on NHL life when the most nebulous and scary of injuries, the concussion, has cost you 140 games in a promising NHL career.
Absolutely, Mueller said. Its been a tough go the last year and a half. For Florida to take a chance on me and play me regularly every night, Im thankful for that.
The bulk of that 140 came in the entire 2010-11 season (82 games) and the first half of last season. Injuries not involving Mullers head cost him another seven games last season. Colorado didnt bother to re-sign him. The Panthers took a one-year, $1.725 million shot.
Prodigious talent always gets every shot (check out the NHL travelog of former Panther Viktor Kozlov) and Mueller said he never doubted he would wind up somewhere.
But the uncertain nature of concussions can make teams leery of taking chances on players with a history of them.
Im sure he felt the need to come into a new organization to ingratiate himself with his team and teammates, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. A good start offensively is a good confidence-booster for him.
Muller began the year on a line with 39-year-old Alexei Kovalev and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau. Now, the 24-year-old Bloomington, Minn., native ranks as the old guy on a line with Huberdeau and rookie Drew Shore.
They all have good offensive skills and they want to be defensively responsible, Dineen said. Theyve shown some snapshots of good chemistry.
Gain a veteran, lose a veteran.
Center Stephen Weiss skated with his normal linemates, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg, on Saturday and will return to the lineup Sunday in Buffalo. Also, Alexei Kovalev was back at practice after taking a sick day Friday.
Meanwhile, Panthers captain and defenseman Ed Jovanovski (knee) wont come on the four-game road trip.