Victor Mete has been a revelation since being drafted in the 4th round (100th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Canadiens. The diminutive rearguard, who played his junior hockey with Dale Hunter and the London Knights, was once regarded as a top OHL prospect (picked 8th overall in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection Draft), but scouts questioned his ability to defend with such a small build.
As we have seen time and time again, size is a horrible reason to not pick a talented 18-year old. Trevor Timmins, usually faulted by certain Canadiens fans for being too safe at the draft table, took a gamble on Mete and the rest is history.
Mete was sent back to London for the 2016-2017 season, where he put up 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He played on the top pairing, one of the best in the OHL, with Canucks 1st rounder Olli Juolevi. Mete immediately began to stick out to us as a player who uses his smarts and active stick to defend. His game centers around anticipation, passing lane cutting and starting a quick counter-attack.
Mete Makes NHL 2017-2018
Montreal, who had a huge gap on their left defense after the departures of Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin and the Mikhail Sergachev trade, saw fit to start Mete on the team a year after drafting him. Victor began the season on the first pairing playing with Shea Weber and looked great during training camp. His ability to join the rush and act as the 4th man, as seen in the video below was extremely attractive for the Habs.
Once Weber went down with an injury, Mete began playing with Jeff Petry. It was quickly evident that Mete was talented, but required a little more time to hone his positioning in the defensive zone and his man coverage, especially for bigger opponents.
The Canadiens saw fit to loan him to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships. During this tournament, Mete returned to the confident Junior star that we had been used to seeing. He was again on the top pairing, played an average of 24 minutesa game in all situations, and helped lead Canada to a gold medal with 3 points in 6 games.
Upon his return to the Canadiens, Mete finished off the year playing in a top-4 role and looked ok in his role. However, it was evident to many that the rigours of Montreal’s putrid 2017-2018 season had taken its toll on the young defenseman, as he was very nervous with the puck by the end of the season. In this sequence below, we see him receive a pass from Max Pacioretty along the boards and, although he had an extra second or two to glide closer into the slot for a shot, quickly fired a shot looking for a deflection. Pacioretty’s hard work led to a few rebounds and an eventual goal, but Mete clearly needed to have more confidence in his mobility.
Mete: Sophmore Season
After a strong year of strength and conditioning, Mete came into camp and looked like he had aged three years in one summer. He was paired with fellow rookie Noah Juulsen, and together they formed a solid and responsible pairing that eventually became Montreal’s 2nd pairing on opening night.
Mete had clearly improved his speed and his reflexes over the summer. He was far more engaged at the blueline and didn’t shy away from challenging the opposition to cut a passing lane or dump-in. In this video, we see how Mete, similarly to his Junior style, jumped into a play to cut a pass, start the counter-attack, and act as the third man on an offensive play that resulted in a goal.
His ability to carry the puck and successfully enter the offensive zone quickly made Mete an important player on a similarly shaky blue-line. On this play, he is able to take the puck deep into the offensive zone, beat the defenseman, and ultimately the play led to a goal. Mete’s speed and his ability to jump in the play has always been a strength, but he has really begun to show it more this season.
Mete’s Short Stint in Laval
Unfortunately, for all the solid work he had accomplished in the neutral and offensive zone, Mete was often called out for his man coverage and gap control in the defensive end. In Junior, he could be a little more aggressive in forcing the play, but, at the NHL level, Mete needed to rely on closing the gaps and using his stick down low in order to properly separate opponents from the puck.
Mete was eventually sent down to the Laval Rocket on Nov 8th to work on certain aspects of his defensive game with Joel Bouchard. The message to Mete was to be more willing to jump into a play and help his teammates in a non-risk situation, while also using his stick more often and strategically in the defensive zone to strip the puck from opponents.
The message was received loud and clear. In this sequence below we can see Mete jump into a broken play in the offensive zone, retrieve a puck and score his first professional goal. The speed, anticipation and swiftness, signature traits from his Junior days, had become more and more apparent at the AHL Level, as Joel Bouchard continued to push him.
As the games went on, Mete began to trust in his passing abilities more and more; attempting more high-danger plays like the one below. The speed and precision of his passing were equally as impressive as the ensuing one-timer on this play. Mete would go on to make a multitude of passes and zone entries, especially o the powerplay, which resulted in high-danger scoring chances during his time in Laval; and the Canadiens’ management team took notice.
Mete’s Return To Montreal
With his play and confidence trending upward, the Canadiens called Mete up from Laval within a month, and the youngster picked up right where he left off, but with far more confidence and poise. He immediately stood out for his mobility, but also began using his stick in defensive situations in a far more effective way, as seen below on this play.
Similarly to his work in Junior, Mete began to have more confidence in his ability to anticipate plays. On this play here, he is able to see a play unfold in his zone, poke the puck loose and, while nobody seemingly looked interested in retrieving the puck, Mete took the puck out of the zone himself; eventually leading to a 2-1 that saw him come inches away from his first NHL goal.
Mete’s work in the defensive zone has greatly improved due to his active stick. We have seen him above use his stick to cut plays on the rush against him, but what about in the defensive zone? Well, this seems to have improved as well. Claude Julien had mentioned his puck clearing near the high-danger areas needed work in Laval, and it was something that Joel Bouchard focused on a lot. In the case below, Mete plays his man on the PK quite well, then pokes away a pass attempt and clears the puck into a corner to alleviate pressure.
His decision making has greatly improved, and Mete has become a far reliable player in his own zone because of it. Many are just waiting for him to start appearing more on the scoresheet, but that shouldn’t be a huge worry if you’ve seen how he’s been trending lately.
A Top-4 Defenseman? Potentially
When you can create chances like this game after game, the worry around Victor Mete’s production is simply unfounded. He will undoubtedly continue to excel on the rush with his speed and positioning. Will he ever be a 10-goal scorer in a season? Unlikely, but he will certainly provide more points-based offence than he has so far in his young career. The below play from the most recent game is very reminiscent of his junior play, which shows Mete becoming more confident in his role and ability at the NHL level. Continued work in his own end, another summer or two of very intense strength training, and Mete could very well become a solid and long-term top-4 defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens. In any case, he has played like one for the last 10 games, and that is encouraging for any fan of the young man.