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Victor Mete is going to be very hard to take out of the lineup

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The Canadiens defenceman played his best game of the season.

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Through the first two periods of Saturday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, there weren’t very many bright spots for the Montreal Canadiens. One of them was defenceman Victor Mete.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Mete, who found himself on the outside looking into the lineup for 12 of the team’s 15 games.

Many look at Mete and see low point totals to go with an undersized frame, not exactly an ideal combination. The knock on Mete is that he doesn’t produce enough to be an offensive defenceman, and he’s too small to be a shutdown guy.

Today’s NHL requires a third type of defenceman, however: one that excels in transition.

Turning defence into offence is something that is needed, having someone who can skate at a high level to break defensive traps is something else. It’s no wonder that Claude Julien’s decision to put Mete into the lineup coincided with the team searching for an offensive spark.

One play in particular showed this clearly.

The play shows exactly why Mete excels at transition. He jumps on the loose puck and instantly uses the empty space he sees to start the rush. He then beats a flat footed Nic Petan at the Toronto blue line who is stuck chasing, and finds Tyler Toffoli for what may have been the team’s best scoring chance to that point.

That was the only controlled zone entry he made in Saturday’s game, but one of seven controlled zone exits — behind only Jeff Petry among Canadiens’ defencemen.

It’s not something that was unique to that game. Mete is the team’s top defenceman in terms of per-minute controlled zone exits, with over 20 per 60 minutes.

It means that Julien will have a tough decision to make after the team’s week off of games. Mete replaced Brett Kulak, and Alexander Romanov also had a solid game. Mete played the least of all Canadiens defencemen at 13:51, but while he was on the ice the Canadiens controlled a team-high 77% of shots at goal, and 87.5% of shots on goal. Mete also wasn’t overly sheltered with offensive zone faceoffs, either.

“I thought he was really good [Saturday],” Julien said after the game. “I know he hasn’t played much but that was one of Victor’s strong games. He really skated and moved the puck well. He was assertive.”

Eric Engels of Sportsnet also mentioned a play that stuck out defensively for Mete, and I went back to check it out. It’s a play that isn’t as flashy as the play above, but just as important.

It’s not easy for anyone to stay in the Canadiens lineup. On defence, Brett Kulak, Romanov, and Mete have all sat out. At forward, it has been Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron, and Corey Perry. The team has been quite healthy this season, and that means the battle for ice time will be intense.

Nobody necessarily deserves to sit on a team as deep and healthy as the Canadiens currently are, but Mete made a strong case on Saturday that he should be the odd man out less often.