Prospect analysis is riddled with misconceptions and generalization. It’s quite common to read that “Player X is tall and therefore needs to improve his skating” or “Player Y is short and therefore he must struggle in puck battles.” In the case of Victor Mete, I believe that he has fallen victim to these generalizations.
Mete’s explosive skating and quick hands are what garners the talk, but since January 2016, Mete’s defensive (and transition) game has been his strong suit. Even Trevor Timmins made a quick note about his defensive ability, mentioning his “rangy-ness” and usage as a shutdown defender in the Memorial Cup.
The early portion of this season has not only been an extension, but an improvement of Mete’s strong defensive performance. Even with the return of Olli Juolevi, Mete remains the defensive stalwart on the Knights’ blue line.
Preventing zone entries
For defencemen preventing zone entries is among the toughest, yet most important skills to possess. There has been countless hours put into tracking and analyzing zone entry data in the NHL realm, but it’s non-existent in the (public) realm of junior hockey. Drawing from the work of Corey Sznajder and others, I’ve made it my goal to track and incorporate data in prospect analyses.
I would like to quickly point out that this data is by no means predictive or projective, but rather a small sample of the performance of the Knights’ defence this season.
Mete has been the far and away the leader at preventing zone entries on his team, slightly over 21% higher than second-place Evan Bouchard. Mete’s explosive skating ability allows him to thwart most uncontrolled entry attempts with a quick burst of speed.
However, it has been Mete’s controlled entry prevention that has made him a cut above the rest defensively.
In the above clips, Mete’s tight gap control and active stick make him impassible one-on-one. In the second clip, he demonstrates smarts by “switching” off his man to pick up the recipient of a drop pass. Mete then simply leaves his stick in the pass lane, only to quickly bring it across his body and then block the shot attempt. Zone entry thwarted, Knights exit.
In the third clip, Mete antagonizes Brett Neumann with an active stick, then stops the puck with his feet while removing Neumann from the play. To finish off the play, he intercepts a bullet centring pass, finds a teammate in stride, and then joins the rush.
The culmination of these little details—active stick, tight gap control, forcing players to the outside—makes Mete a proactive defensive player. He has a knack for making players trip over their own feet or the puck by aggressively taking away time and space.
Orchestrating the breakout
Mete’s transition game is one of his few tools that seems unanimously respected. He doesn’t just orchestrate the breakout, he often is the breakout—a one-man show. Explosive acceleration and quick hands give him the ability to explode out of the zone with a certain ease. When Mete can’t do it alone, which he does a great job recognizing, he utilizes short-to-medium range passes to spread the forecheck and create lanes.
Thanks to Mete’s early dominance at controlled exits, he has only made an uncontrolled exit attempt 19.6% of the time, second lowest on the team (Passing maestro Olli Juolevi is first with 15.8%). Furthermore, he averages 4.33 controlled exit attempts per game more than any other defender on the team.
When partnered with Brandon Crawley (Oct. 7 & 9—the only games Mete has remained with one partner throughout the game), Mete has made 77% of the exit attempts by Knights defence while on he is on the ice, and 87.5% of successful controlled exit attempts. It’s clear that his defensive partner actively looked for Mete to lead the breakout.
Mete’s strong defensive performance early in this season isn’t surprising to me, but digging deeper has quantified how much better Mete has been than his teammates.
The result of Mete’s work have been instantly gratifying: third in team scoring (six points), third among team defenders in CF% (52.59%. first place has 53.62%), and first among team defenders in SCF% (71%).
What happens in between the zone entry and zone exit requires attention, but Mete getting stuck in extended zone pressure is quite rare. Perhaps he doesn’t win battles at a high rate, but when he thwarts zone entries like crazy, how many battles does he really to participate in? Not very many.