GREENBURGH, N.Y. - After a career spent between the AHL and NHL, center Chris Mueller has learned to take things in stride. Take Wednesday, for example.
It was the day after the 28-year-old center from West Seneca, New York, scored a power-play goal in the third period and assisted on Kevin Klein's overtime goal in the Rangers' 4-3 road victory over the Devils.
During a filmed interview with the team's website, Mueller remained unruffled as impish Chris Kreider kicked tape balls toward his locker. The crew was more agitated.
And Mueller wasn't overly excited about his two-point game either. He understands that to stay in the NHL, he will have to play a role, win faceoffs and contribute offensively when he can.
The goal, which brought the Rangers to within 3-2, was certainly "a confidence builder," said Mueller, who was called up from Hartford on Oct. 17. "You can't get too high though. It was a great pass by Brass [Derick Brassard] and on the assist, I was an outlet for Kreider. I just gave it back to him."
A righthanded center, Mueller signed as a free agent in July and is trying to fill a void while the Rangers play without top center Derek Stepan, who is out with a fractured fibula. On Tuesday, in his second game, he played 12:21, including 2:16 on the power play. In two games, he has won 13 of 21 draws, including 3-0 on the power play, or 61.9 percent.
"I'm really comfortable [at the dot]," Mueller said. "It's one of the little things that can keep you in the lineup, in the league. More and more, it's become a bigger part of the game, especially late in the game; a win in your own zone or in the offensive zone can make a difference."
In Nashville, where he played 46 games in three seasons, Mueller had a mentor in Paul Gaustad, the veteran who consistently is among the NHL's leaders in faceoff percentage. "I picked up a lot of tendencies and advice from him," Mueller said.
"You learn by watching who you're going against and bearing down."
There's no doubt that Mueller has produced for winning teams. He averaged 13 goals and 28 points in his final three years at Michigan State and was an alternate captain when the Spartans won the NCAA Championship in 2007.
Last season, with the AHL Texas Stars, he had 25 goals and 57 points and six goals and 11 points in the playoffs as the Stars won the Calder Cup. Mueller's Texas coach, Willie Desjardins, now coaching the Vancouver Canucks, had said that Mueller gets better in tougher games: "A real big-game player."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault had been unfamiliar with Mueller. "[Associate coach] Scott [Arniel] knew him a little from his time in the minors," he said. "It's mostly our pro scouts. On the 1st of July, you have a list of depth players you need, and right now he's in the top 12 for us . . . He's a smart player, not overly quick, but good in the faceoff circle, knows what to do with the puck and being a righthanded shot helps: We don't have a lot of those."