Commentary

Mueller's time so far with Gretzky and Coyotes? 'Surreal'

Updated: March 13, 2008, 4:10 PM ET
By David Amber | Special to ESPN.com

As the regular season winds down, the Phoenix Coyotes are thinking playoffs.

With The Great One behind the bench, and a really good one on the ice in Peter Mueller, postseason play is still a possibility.

In this week's Facing Off, we go one-on-one with rookie sensation Peter Mueller, who tells us what it's like to play for Wayne Gretzky, whom he'd choose between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin and why he's excited about getting USA Hockey back on track.

Peter Mueller -- Quick Facts

• Mueller was born on April 14, 1988 in Bloomington, Minn.

• He was selected in the first round (eighth overall) by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2006 draft.

• He collected his first career hat trick on Nov. 7, 2007 against the Anaheim Ducks.

• He was named the NHL's rookie of the month in January.

Question from David Amber: As a young American hockey player, whom did you look up to growing up?

Answer from Peter Mueller: Well, Wayne [Gretzky] was obviously the guy you remember. I was young, but I have tapes of him playing and scoring all those goals and watching him do his magic on the ice. You can't help but try to pattern your game after him. And Mike Modano, for an American player, it is cool to see him. He's from Minnesota, so I kind of took the same route as he did. It was neat to see him and learn about him and watch him play the game, as well.

Q: What is it like skating back to the bench and seeing Wayne Gretzky as your coach?

A: It's definitely surreal, that's for sure, but after the first couple of weeks, you get used to the fact that he's your coach. He's just like any other coach; he wants to win just as bad as you do. You feel like you've known him all your life after you start talking to him. He's very down-to-earth, he cares for all the guys. He's just an all-around great guy.

Q: What is Wayne like as a coach when the team isn't playing well?

A: He definitely lets us know, but he doesn't come across yelling and screaming. He'll come in the locker room and say, "Come on guys, we've got to pick it up here." Everyone knows when we're not playing well, but Wayne is tough and fair.

Q: Do you have to call him The Great One or just Coach?

A: [Laughs] No, he lets us call him Gretz or just Wayne, but we don't call him The Great One.

Q: The Coyotes are building their future around you and a couple of other players. Has Gretzky taken you under his wing, sat you down and explained what kind of player the team expects you to become?

A: Yeah, he has taken me aside a couple of times and told me what I need to work on. Mostly little things, like confidence and zone coverage. If I do something on the ice that I didn't know was wrong, he'll come over and tell me right away. He always tells me what he would have done. It's really cool to have that relationship with your coach. He sees things in the offensive zone that most guys don't see, so it helps me grow as a player having Wayne guiding me.

Q: In just your 12th NHL game, you scored a hat trick and you did it against defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim. What was most memorable about that third goal?

A: The thing I remember most was, after the third goal, the guys celebrating with me on the ice. It was amazing, the support the guys were giving me. At that point, I realized I could play at this level and that I needed to stop worrying so much and just play my game and have fun with it.

[+] EnlargePeter Mueller
Norm Hall/NHLI/Getty ImagesPeter Mueller has 21 goals and 27 assists in 69 games for the Coyotes.

Q: Did the guys take you out to dinner afterward?

A: No. Actually, I've had to pay for a couple of meals since then [laughs].

Q: You mean, "rookie night"?

A: Yeah, that definitely was an interesting night. We were in New York, unfortunately, the most expensive city in the league, and the team went out for a really big dinner. There were about seven rookies splitting the bill, so that helped. It was a special night; it made you feel like you're really part of the team. But the fun ends when you get the check. It was expensive. I won't say how much, but it was expensive [laughs].

Q: I know you're a big sports fan outside of hockey. How big was that Shaq trade for the city of Phoenix?

A: When I heard he was coming here, I was very excited. I know he's going to bring the Suns all the way because he has that big body and he can throw around his weight under the hoop. Imagine that guy on skates? It would be scary.

Q: In a city with Steve Nash, Wayne Gretzky, Edgerrin James, Randy Johnson and now Shaq, who is the biggest sports celebrity in Phoenix?

A: Probably, I'd say it's either between Wayne or Nash. You see Nash on the billboards and in the commercials. But it's a toss up between those two.

Q: If you had to choose between Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby as a teammate, whom would you want?

A: Oh, geez. Those two are unbelievable. This is impossible. But if I had to pick, I'd probably say Crosby. He's definitely a great playmaker and he can put the puck in the net. But that's a tough call.

Q: Crosby [Canada] and Ovechkin [Russia] will definitely be representing their respective countries at the 2010 Olympics. Has USA Hockey approached you yet about the possibility of playing with them in Vancouver?

A: Nope. I haven't heard anything about that, but that would be very special and that would be an unbelievable honor.

Q: In the hockey community, people are looking to players like you, Patrick Kane and Erik Johnson to lead USA Hockey into the next generation. What do you think of that?

A: What can I say? That would be great if we can continue where Mike Modano and Chris Drury and guys like that have taken hockey in this country. I am very proud to part of the U.S. movement, having so many young guys come into the league around the same time. Basically, we're all pretty close friends, and having your friends come up to the NHL with you and having great success, it's a cool thing to have.

Q: As far as your NHL team goes, what kind of pressure is there right now for the Coyotes to make the playoffs this season?

A: Everyone knows it's right there in front of us. We know what it will take to get us to the postseason and we have a great shot. With our team, it's about being gritty and getting everyone playing their roles. The scorers need to score, the checkers need to check, and basically, every game is a playoff game because so many teams are fighting for the last few spots. I know it would be great to get to the postseason, especially in my first season.

ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.