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Can Victor Mete be a top-pairing defender next season for the Canadiens?

He showed glimpses of top-level talent, and Victor Mete could once again begin the season on Shea Weber’s flank.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Victor Mete blew everyone away last season, rocketing up the depth chart from a very good CHL prospect to an NHL regular in the span of a few months. By the time all was said and done, Mete not only found himself an NHL player, but he had secured himself a spot on the Montreal Canadiens’ top pairing with Shea Weber.

It’s a tall order given the usage that Weber has in Montreal. He plays major minutes night in and night out in every conceivable situation as their top defenceman. Mete’s up-tempo, puck-moving style meshed perfectly with Weber’s methodical, defensively responsible ways on the ice. While Weber defaulted to others to carry the puck, Mete was up to the task, allowing them to form a cohesive unit on the ice.

As the charts above show, Weber opted to almost never carry the puck out of his own end, whereas Mete was only behind Jeff Petry for zone exits while in possession of the puck.

Allowing Mete to grow into that role alongside Weber is best for both involved. As the young defender learns the professional game, he has a steadying presence in the defensive zone. When it’s time to begin the transition game, Weber can utilize Mete’s speed and stickhandling abilities to get the puck out of the Canadiens’ end.

With that dynamic in mind, Mete actually performed admirably in his own end defensively. Despite concerns about his size around the net, he was one of Montreal’s better options at limiting the damage against. Even more impressive is he did a significant amount of his defensive work without the aid of Weber. who played just 26 total games this year.

One of Montreal’s biggest flaws this year was that they struggled to stop chances from the slot, and net-front areas in general. With Mete on the ice, those chances were greatly limited, with the only heavy shot areas coming from the point and from his partner’s side of the ice.

Per Natural Stat Trick, Mete was the third-best Habs defencemen at limiting high-danger chances against per 60 (HDCA/60) with just 8.49 given up in every 60 minutes of five-on-five time. Given that the two players with better numbers played a combined 15 total games for the Habs this year, it’s clear that Mete’s defensive chops are very much a real asset.

Where he shines the most is still on the offensive side of the puck, even if his point production didn’t match up to the suggestion of his underlying numbers. One of the over-arching themes of the team this year was just awful luck all the way around, and Mete wasn’t exempt from it. He’s still learning the NHL game, but he isn’t a seven-point player by any means.

In terms of Goals For per 60 (GF/60 rel) and Goals For Percentage (GF% rel) Mete ranked second in both relative goals for per 60 minutes and relative goals-for percentage, trailing only Mike Reilly in both (0.94 GF/60 rel vs. 1.25; 11.5 GF% rel vs. 11.6).

When looking at stats per 60 minutes, Mete ranked in the top three for a number of important categories, such as scoring chances for (28.71), high-danger chances for (13.45), and high-danger goals for (1.9).

While it’s worth noting that the Habs struggled mightily on offence this year, when Mete was on the ice, the puck was moving in the right direction for the team. Unfortunately for Mete, out of all Habs defenders who played at least 200 minutes this year, his time on ice was the lowest of all at five-on-five (13:33) and all situations (15:35), trailing the closest player in Brett Lernout by at least a minute in each instance.

For Mete to be at his best and develop as a player, Claude Julien will need to play him more on the ice, even if he’s in a slump production wise. The production is going to come as time goes on; Mete has too much talent to not be a key offensive contributor in the NHL. An awful season by the standards of many of the Canadiens’ offensive leaders, coupled with injuries, did little to help the rookie defender generate much offence, at least in terms of points. His underlying numbers show he’s going to improve next season.

The question is: can Mete reprise his role as a top-pairing defender with Weber next season?

The answer currently looks like a pretty resounding ‘yes.’ He was a good option there even in the first few games of his rookie year before the season collapsed into a black hole of ineptitude for everyone involved.

Mete and Weber formed a cohesive unit on the ice, and due to a poor defensive system, a disastrous season from Carey Price, and horrendous luck for the forwards, it wasn’t something that was as noticeable as it could have been. Reuniting the veteran Weber with the dynamic Mete seems like a relative no-brainer to take the role among the current corps, unless Marc Bergevin is planning on a major trade to acquire a more established top-pairing, left-handed defenceman this summer.

Mete has all the tools to be a half of the top duo for Montreal next year. The systems are likely to improve with new coaches in place, and the team likely won’t suffer such back-breaking injuries early in the season. Without handing out a sizable sum for a trade target, Mete is the best option available to the Canadiens, and by all accounts that’s just fine. He earned the spot out of necessity last year, but quickly showed he deserved it with his play. There’s no reason why he can’t do that again next year.