Despite basically being locked down in a dark room because of severe headaches stemming from a concussion, Peter Mueller says 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 didn't miss a game due to injury with Florida this season and has eight goals with nine assists in 42 games.
On Friday, Mueller was named Florida's 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 Colorado's Masterton nominee last year as well.
"Hopefully this the last time I'm nominated,'' said Mueller, who missed five games this month to be with wife Taylar as she recently gave birth to their first child.
"In some ways it's an honor because it shows that with hard work and dedication through the offseason you can get back to where you were. It's been a tough stretch for me but I'm very fortunate to be where I am. I'm in good health and getting better every game.''
Tomas Fleischmann, Florida's nominee last season, played with Mueller in Colorado and saw first-hand what he was going through. Colorado obviously had doubts Mueller would ever be the player he was projected to be when he was the eighth overall draft pick by Phoenix in 2006.
"He's 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; both he and the Panthers expect him to return next year.
LAST PLACE 'STINGS'
Coach Kevin Dineen said following Thursday's 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 general manager Dale Tallon will make the right moves in the offseason to get the team back on track.
Dineen spoke on Thursday night -- one day before Friday's one-year anniversary of the end of Florida's 2012 season which came in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Florida's 2013 season ends Saturday in Tampa.
"We're at the bottom of the pile,'' Dineen said. "That's a lot of hockey teams [above Florida]. You're always looking to try and reinforce some positives, but that is a brutal reality for our team. That's something we have to sit on for four months here.
"There are areas we certainly need to address and make sure we're back to where we were recently. .-.-. It's going to be a long summer.''
-- Rookie center Nick Bjugstad will continue his season after Saturday's finale as he was chosen to represent Team USA at the upcoming World Championships held May 3-19 in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland.
Bjugstad was part of the USA team in the past two world junior teams. 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 as 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 to date and is expected to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy which goes to the league's top rookie.
Huberdeau is first in goals among rookies with 14 and is tied with 28 points.
SATURDAY: PANTHERS AT LIGHTNING
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 56-42-10
The game: This is the season finale for both teams and the final game between the two as Southeast Division rivals. Florida and Tampa Bay will stay together in a new division next season.