The modern NHL game is one played a higher speed, and on a different skill level than just a decade ago. Physicality is still a key part of any game, but it’s taking a different shape than it used to.
Players use finesse and speed to their advantage in the defensive zone, with smart positioning and an active stick becoming key tools in a player’s game. If your game relies on physicality and you are unable to keep up with the play around you, you’re quickly going to be left behind in this new incarnation of the league.
Players like Victor Mete represent that next generation of young players coming into the league; one that is skewed more toward athletic talents than physical ones.
He stands just 5’9’’ and weighs in at 183 pounds — not exactly a giant out there, even by OHL standards — and yet the Woodbridge native carved out a spot for himself on the Monreal Canadiens roster at 19 years old.
For those keeping score at home, that makes him the shortest member of the Canadiens, alongside Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher, which should give you all the proof you need that size is not a hindrance.
It’s been an apparent change among forwards that being a behemoth on skates isn’t the advantage it used to be. Nowadays in the NHL you have plenty of high-scoring, and highly skilled, guys under the mythical six-foot height. On the Canadiens alone Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Shaw, Charles Hudon, Byron, and Gallagher all fit this bill, and you’d be hard pressed to say that any one of them isn’t an everyday NHL player.
On defence, the shift hasn’t quite been as quick, as many teams opt for size on the blue line, and there isn’t any problem with that assuming that those players can keep up with the game. It wasn’t long ago when Canadiens fans were watching Douglas Murray lumber around the ice, unable to keep up with any play around him, and play a part in stalling the Habs’ 2014 playoff run against Boston.
In recent years though, teams have turned to smaller, puck-moving, defenders who can contribute at both ends of the ice. Outside of Montreal, players such as Torey Krug (5’9”), and Ryan Ellis (5’10”) have become star players on their respective teams despite not fitting the mould of what had been the prototypical defenceman. Krug has 235 points in 398 games, while Ellis has 173 in 396, with both playing heavy minutes for Boston and Nashville in recent seasons.
It’s production that’s well worth mentioning even if they don’t grab the point totals of someone like Erik Karlsson. Players like Shayne Gostisbehere, Tyson Barrie, Sami Vatanen and Troy Stecher are each under 6’0” as well.
Mete is just the next generation of this style of player breaking into the league, and as we’ve noted in other articles, he’s doing just fine at the NHL level despite the supposed knock of being small.
He can skate like the wind, getting the puck into areas where defencemen typically don’t roam, and can handle the defensive-zone pressures along with that. His skating ability is going to unlock a number of possibilities for the Canadiens going forward, especially if some of their recent picks in Josh Brook, Cale Fleury and Jarret Tyszka can develop into NHL-quality players. Pairing some of them together could create a dynamic tandem that the Canadiens have been lacking since P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov were split up.
Following Mete, and perhaps projected to go much earlier than the 100th overall selection partly because of how he’s risen to the NHL level, 2018 draft-eligible defenders Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist have drawn praise for their abilities on the ice, despite being outside the stereotypical defensive build.
It’s a growing trend in the game, and the Canadiens are right at the forefront of the movement opting for skill regardless of size in the NHL. He’s not a trendsetter, but Victor Mete is part of a new generation of defencemen, and hopefully a new trend in Montreal after the team had been bogged down with players on their blue line who weren’t able to keep up with the increased pace of the game.
We can argue about his viability as a top-pairing player, but it’s fairly indisputable to say that he is capable of being an NHL player at this point. Size isn’t a critical flaw for Mete, and as he matures in the coming seasons, his hockey sense at the NHL level is going to improve as well. He’s going to get even better, and with his already impressive talents, that’s a welcome sign for the Canadiens and their fans.