Having gone a bit under the radar in recent years in German hockey has been the quiet but steady development of defenseman Jonas Muller. Born in Berlin, he’s developed almost entirely with the Eisbaren Berlin organization, a subsidiary of the same Anschutz Group that owns the Los Angeles Kings.
Once considered a bit on the small side, the solidly-built, 6’1 and 180-pound Muller has seen not only his body but also his game and profile grow in leaps and bounds over the past two seasons.
Largely a prospect of note only in the hockey scene in Eastern Germany, he was finally discovered and given a shot by the national program as part of the national team at the U18 World Championship in Sochi, Russia, gathering an assist, four penalty minutes, and a -3 rating in five games. This nomination came after a strong season for Berlin’s DNL club and his first pro play for FASS Berlin in the nation’s third highest pro circuit – all as a 17 year old.
That opportunity clearing boosted his belief in himself and his possibilities for both now and the future, as he had a monster developmental 2013-14 season, gathering 16 points in 24 DNL games, 15 points in 25 games for FASS Berlin, and then getting his feet wet with 11 games for the Eisbaren in the DEL.
Coming into this season, Muller was not only driven towards making himself a name to reckon with at the pro level as a 19 year old overage player, but also at the international level. With solely the U18 under his belt leading up to Christmas, he managed to make the national squad that recently participated at the 2015 World Junior Championship tournament in Canada, where he found himself on the ice for many of the team’s most difficult assignments. Able to do little to prevent the team’s slide to relegation, he nonetheless gathered valuable international experience to add to what has been a truly impressive season to date.
Muller forced Berlin’s hand right out of the gate and although the team had hoped for him to simply develop with their second league affiliate in Dresden, where he has collected four points (1G, 3A) in 16 games this season, they simply couldn’t keep him off the big league team as he’s shown himself to be incredibly adept at playing at the nation’s highest level and meshing wonderfully with players who are simply older and more experienced. This has suited him well and the up-and-comer has a goal, six points and a +8 rating in 19 games for Eisbaren Berlin.
Hockey’s Future recently had an opportunity to catch up with Muller to talk about the WJC, his development, and what it is like playing under the guise of new head coach and former Stanley Cup winner, Uwe Krupp.
Hockey’s Future: Jonas, you just got back from the WJC, where Germany was relegated. Despite the disappointment of the result, how was the experience for you?
Jonas Muller: It was just an incredible experience for me and I had a lot of fun just seeing where the other countries are in their development and what we’ve got to work on in order to improve as a nation.
HF: You’re right in the middle of the season and then you go to a tournament like this in the motherland of hockey. What kind of adjustment was it for you to go from the routine of a regular season to the daily ins and outs of a tournament, which is simply a beast of its own in so many ways?
JM: You just have to regenerate very quickly in order to be fit for every game. That was the biggest adjustment. You have to be ready to go so quickly, because you seem to have a game every day or every other day at the latest. There was also a lot of video. We were constantly watching things in order to improve and be even more ready for the next opponent.
HF: How was it for you as a newcomer to this tournament in comparison to a Frederik Tiffels or Dominik Kahun, who were playing their third WJC?
JM: They knew what to expect; as simple as that. Nothing was new for them. They’ve got some routine.
HF: You played against some kids who are currently getting a lot of press already in the world of hockey and are felt to be future NHL stars. How did you approach that challenge? What goes through your mind in this situation?
JM: I knew who was playing and that they’re top players, but when you’re on the ice you just don’t think about that. If they were skating against me, I did the best I could and concentrated on my game and our team game plan. And it’s not like their names were on the front of their jerseys.
HF: Tell us a bit about your season to date here in Germany, seeing as how more than a few who aren’t familiar with you have found it very surprising that you’ve managed to play in over 20 DEL games this season, much less have the statistical success you’ve had for one of the country’s top organizations.
JM: Up to now it’s just been a super season. It’s given me a great deal of confidence and I’ve been able to see just how much I can do and what parts of the game I can influence. Before the WJC I got to play quite a lot. It’s been less since then, which is understandable because our new coach didn’t know me at all. It’s January and I have to re-prove myself, but I’m confident I will and I hope I’ll start getting more playing time again.
HF: How difficult is it dealing with a coaching change mid-season?
JM: It’s a bit strange, but you have to accept it and immediately make the transition to working with the new coach. There’s a new system and different expectations, especially of a young guy like me.
HF: You now have pretty much the most famous German defenseman of all time as your coach. What does this mean for you as a young, up-and-coming defenseman?
JM: He speaks to me a lot in practice and always has tips. He tells you what you’ve done well, but always lets you know what you need to do better.
HF: You’ve spent some time down in Dresden in the second league. What would you say is the big difference between the DEL and DEL2?
JM: Speed. The DEL is simply quicker. The physical play in the two leagues is pretty much the same. The game tactics and systems are different as well – adjusted to meet the concerns of the respective league.
HF: What kind of feedback about your future have you received from the Berlin organization?
JM: They want to continue their work with me and plan with me in the future, but I have to do what’s expected of me here or I’ll find myself down on the farm in Dresden to learn more.
HF: What have you improved upon the most in this season?
JM: I can read the game better and keep a cool head in handling the puck. I also think my overall passing and first breakout pass have improved a good bit with my adjustment to the speed of the DEL game.
HF: What about your game absolutely has to get better?
JM: My quickness, especially those first few steps. That’s got to improve. I need to continue getting stronger and bigger as well.
HF: Have you ever thought of playing in North America like Leon Draisaitl or WJC teammates like Markus Eisenschmid and Parker Tuomie?
JM: It’s a dream of mine to play over there. If the opportunity ever comes, I don’t think I’ll have to think twice about it. I’m definitely open to giving it a career shot in North America.
HF: Do you have a favorite NHL team and perhaps a favorite NHL player?
JM: Sure do… I’m a big Red Wings fan and Pavel Datsyuk is my favorite. Sure, he’s not a defenseman, but his two-way game is very strong and he’s so entertaining in so many ways. He simply does so much right.
HF: Do you perhaps have a favorite defenseman who you like to model your game after?
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