Despite basically being locked down in a dark room because of severe headaches stemming from a concussion, Peter Mueller said he never doubted he would return to the NHL.
Two different concussions cost Mueller the entire 2010-11 season and more than half of the following season. A promising career looked derailed because of the head trauma.
It never crossed my mind, he said. I just knew, somehow, I was going to make it back. I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Mueller, now 24, battled back and played in 32 games with Colorado last season.
The Avalanche let him go after he scored seven goals with nine assists, and he signed a one-year deal with the Panthers. Mueller didnt miss a game because of injury with Florida this season and has eight goals with nine assists in 42 games.
On Friday, Mueller was named Floridas nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The award is given to a player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Mueller was Colorados Masterton nominee last season as well.
Hopefully, this is the last time Im nominated, said Mueller, who missed five games this month to be with his wife, Taylar, who recently gave birth to their first child.
In some ways its an honor, because it shows that with hard work and dedication through the offseason you can get back to where you were. Its been a tough stretch for me, but Im very fortunate to be where I am. Im in good health and getting better every game.
Tomas Fleischmann, Floridas nominee last season, played with Mueller in Colorado and saw firsthand what he was going through. Colorado, obviously, had doubts that Mueller would ever be the player he was projected to be when he was the eighth overall draft pick by Phoenix in 2006.
Hes a really great player, and you can see what he does offensively, said Fleischmann, who coincidentally signed with Florida after being let go by the Avs.
I saw him in Colorado and felt really bad for him. He went through a lot but has accomplished a lot.
Mueller is a restricted free agent after this season ends. He and the Panthers expect him to return next season.
LAST PLACE STINGS
Coach Kevin Dineen said following Thursday nights 4-0 loss to the Maple Leafs that finishing this season as the last-place team in the NHL stings, but fans should have faith that general manager Dale Tallon will make the right moves in the offseason to get the team back on track.
Dineen spoke one day before Fridays one-year anniversary of the end of Floridas 2012 season, which came in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Floridas 2013 season will end Saturday in Tampa.
Were at the bottom of the pile, Dineen said. Thats a lot of hockey teams [above Florida]. Youre always looking to try and reinforce some positives, but that is a brutal reality for our team. Thats something we have to sit on for four months here.
There are areas we certainly need to address and make sure were back to where we were recently. Its going to be a long summer.
• Rookie center Nick Bjugstad will continue to play hockey after Saturdays season finale. He was chosen to represent Team USA at the upcoming world championships, to be held May 3-19 in Stockholm, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland.
Bjugstad was part of Team USA at the past two world junior tournaments. Florida athletic trainer Dave Zenobi will also be part of the team.
I feel fortunate to be able to go and continue to improve by playing high-speed hockey with some older guys, Bjugstad said.
Center Drew Shore will not play at the worlds. It appears he will need offseason wrist surgery.
• Jonathan Huberdeau will conclude his rookie season Saturday against the Lightning. Huberdeau has played in all 47 games and is expected to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the leagues top rookie.
Huberdeau is first in goals among rookies with 14.