It turns out Claude Julien had the right idea over a season ago when he paired a 19-year-old Victor Mete with the Montreal Canadiens’ top defenceman, Shea Weber, in training camp. At the time it was thought to be just a brief experiment for the teenager, but he began the season in the same spot, and looked good.
His rookie season was broken up by a trip to the World Juniors, and an injury sustained late in that tournament that delayed his return. His NHL play once he was healthy was often limited to second- or third-pairing duty. This season, after not really establishing himself as an everyday option, he was sent to the AHL to rediscover his game against inferior competition.
Seven games and four points later — including his first goal as a professional — he came back to Montreal looking more like the player who flew out of the gate in 2017-18.
He’s now played three games since his recall, seeing his ice time and role steadily increase, playing almost 20 minutes versus the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday afternoon.
He was on the ice for nine scoring chances for and just three against in his first game back on Wednesday. On Thursday, he was showing off his defensive ability, racing back to cover for partner David Schlemko, making up half a zone to prevent a shot on goal.
Victor Mete uses his speed to get back in the play and bail out David Schlemko. pic.twitter.com/9cgZpdeEIH— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 21, 2018
He had his best game playing alongside Weber on Saturday, with effective plays at both ends of the ice. In overtime he was at his best, with plenty of open ice to show off his skills and creativity.
It started with defending the rush, hanging with his man along the boards and all the way to the opposite side of the zone. When the puck popped loose, he quickly noticed that he had space to work with, and shoved the puck ahead to create a race he knew he was going to win. He carried the puck through the neutral zone and passed off before continuing on to the net, traveling the length of the ice in transition. Another quick decision poked the puck to Max Domi as he headed for a change, which turned into a secondary assist on the game-winning goal.
It was his best shift of the game, but far from his only noticeable one. Some fans unfamiliar with the team might have guessed he was a forward with the amount of times he was one of the players on a rush into the Golden Knights’ end.
He has regained confidence in his role, more that of a rover than a typically defined position, and it makes him one of the most effective players the Canadiens have. He had lost some of those elements before his demotion, but with a capable, more complementary partner and a fearless mindset to become an extra forward at any and every opportunity, he’s playing a game that is tough to counter for opposition players, and that’s a good situation for the Canadiens going forward.