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Victor Mete’s rapid rise to the NHL

The young blue-liner was a revelation in 2017-18.

Chicago Blackhawks v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

When the Montreal Canadiens announced Victor Mete as their fourth-round draft selection in June of 2016, nobody could have expected the defenceman would find a regular role in the NHL just over a year later.

Defencemen take time, as the old adage goes, and that’s doubly true for those drafted in later rounds. Mete, who was the 100th player off the board, apparently didn’t get the memo.

There were 32 blue-liners chosen ahead of Mete in 2016, and a whopping 26 of them have yet to taste a cup of coffee in the NHL, including the likes of fifth overall pick, and London Knights teammate, Olli Juolevi. Meanwhile, Mete has seen his stock rise meteorically after suiting up for 49 outings with the Canadiens this past year.

Even looking at the last number of draft classes, there have been just four defencemen chosen outside of the top three rounds since 2014 to appear regularly in the NHL. Of them, Mete is the youngest to break through.

One of the youngest players in the entire league, it’s a bit shocking just how quickly the 19-year-old made the jump to the professional game. Bypassing the AHL entirely, it would be tough to blame the Knights if they were disappointed to learn the Canadiens wouldn’t be returning their star defenceman.

While in the OHL, Mete was highly touted for his abilities, although the usual doubts seemed to cast an ever-present shadow. There was little question about his talent, but scouts were concerned about his size, and about the quality of the team he played on.

Mete’s Knights were stacked. A team full of high-end draft picks and now-regular NHLers, the 2015-16 edition of the team walked through the Memorial Cup with a series of convincing wins. With so much skill rounding out the roster, it was difficult to say, perhaps, whether Mete was a catalyst or simply a beneficiary of more highly regarded players, as Juolevi had been leading up to the draft.

With increased responsibility in his post-draft year, being named an alternate captain, Mete stepped up yet again for the OHL’s defending champs. Scoring at a near point-per-game rate — 44 points in 50 games — Mete topped a defensive group that included the aforementioned Juolevi, as well as Evan Bouchard, who is likely to be a top-10 selection in this month’s NHL Entry Draft. Though Mete would go on to have a solid playoffs through two rounds that year, few could have expected them to be the final games of the youngster’s junior career.

What’s important to remember is that these are mostly uncharted waters in the modern Canadiens organization, and as such few knew what to expect when Mete cracked the roster. The only comparable situation in recent history of a teenage defenceman getting so much as a look with these Habs is that of Mikhail Sergachev, who was sent back to junior as an 18-year-old after just a four-game stint.

More impressive still is the fact that Mete does not belong to the brand of defenceman that has had overwhelming staying power in the Canadiens’ organization lately. We have seen a plethora of mobile, puck-moving, offensive-minded blue-liners brought into the fold only to be left by the wayside by the Bergevin regime.

That, perhaps, is actually one of the reasons why Mete was able to knock down the door and force his way onto Claude Julien’s roster. Mete brought something that was lacking after an off-season reimagining of the Canadiens’ defensive corps. He managed to jump in immediately, playing top-pairing minutes alongside Shea Weber, complementing the Habs’ #1 with his footspeed and quickness before being moved around the lineup as Weber was lost to a season-ending injury.

With seven points in his rookie campaign — all assists — Mete didn’t light the scoresheet on fire, although he could hardly have been expected to with one of the league’s most anemic offences in front of him. Regardless, his play certainly impressed. While he wasn’t used in the team’s most difficult defensive situations, Mete did often control the scoring chances while on the ice. The production should come eventually, and so too will increased defensive responsibilities.

Having also taken time away from the Canadiens to serve as an alternate captain for the gold-medal winning Canadian team at the World Junior Championship, it’s been an unbelievable journey for the Woodbridge, Ontario native, who will now enter his sophomore year in the NHL with a wealth of experience in his pocket.

It isn’t easy for a player in Mete’s situation to accomplish what he has. In September, he had just about everything working against him. He was inexperienced, he was under-sized, and keeping him around would burn a year of his contract, bringing him closer to UFA status. That makes it all the more remarkable that he now has his rookie year behind him.

After having his name called in 2016, some may have doubted whether Mete would even be part of the future in Montreal. Two short years later, he has become an important part of the Canadiens’ here-and-now. With a track record of improvement year-to-year at every level, it will be intriguing to see just where Mete can go from here.