Although he spent several weeks in bed with the lights out, unable to read, listen to music or watch television, in an effort to shake the cobwebs and lessen the pounding in his head after two concussions, Panthers forward Peter Mueller always knew his best hockey was still ahead of him.

"That never crossed my mind,'' Mueller said about retiring after sitting out all of the 2010-11 season and another 50 games in 2011-12. "I just knew at some point — I didn't know how long it would take or the struggles I went through — I knew there was always a light at the end of the tunnel, and I kept striving for that.''

Mueller has been one of the bright lights for the Panthers in the darkest season in franchise history, and that's why the South Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association selected Mueller as the Panthers nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The award is given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon, who signed Mueller to a one-year deal worth $1.725 million in July despite his coming off two injury-plagued seasons in Colorado, hopes to re-sign the imminent free agent.

"This has been a rebound season for him, and it's going to take him a little more time,'' Tallon said. "We're very happy with him, and he's definitely part of our future.''

Mueller scored 22 goals with 32 assists his rookie season in Phoenix in 2007-08. He wanted to prove that wasn't a fluke, and that he could play an entire season without injury-forced absences.

Through the first month and a half of this lockout-shortened season, Mueller centered the Panthers' most productive line alongside rookies Drew Shore and Jonathan Huberdeau. Mueller has eight goals and nine assists to go with a team-leading 125 shots.