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Catching the Torch: How Victor Mete has taken his offence to the next level

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This week’s prospect update looks at Mete’s movement, Juulsen’s composure, Sergachev’s offence, and Staum’s improving defensive game.

Barrie Colts v London Knights Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Victor Mete

Few Canadiens prospects are generating more discussion than Victor Mete right now. The explosive defender has been in the highlight reel for the all the right reasons in a high-profile playoff series against Mikhail Sergachev and Jeremiah Addison. To top it off, Mete signed an entry-level contract with the Canadiens last week.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Mete. For example, he finished third in goals per game played (0.30) and sixth in primary points per game (0.58) among all OHL defenders. He placed marginally above top prospect Sergachev, while also ahead of high-profile prospects like Olli Juolevi, Mitchell Vande Sompel, and Nicolas Hague.

One thing that most of the top players, both above him and around him, possess is a booming point shot, and that’s something that Mete does not have.

So how has Mete not only taken his offence to the next level, but firmly placed himself among the OHL’s elite?

The answer lies in Mete’s skill set and style. Yes, he lacks a big shot, but he’s able to make up for it with constant movement and attention to little details, such as taking lanes, sneaking off the point, and keeping his stick open. These traits allow Mete to take shots from closer range than other defenders, and it shows in the heat map of his shots.

Heat map of Victor Mete’s shots on goal. The black dots indication the location of Mete’s goals. (Image: Prospect-Stats.com.)

Mete’s favourite spot to shoot from is from the top of the circle, but the second is a large area that covers the high slot and down past the hashmarks. Notice where Mete is scoring his goals: on the left side of the ice in positions that forwards normally do.

Essentially, Mete is playing to his strengths of utilizing his skating and smarts to get closer to the net to improve his shot location.

How is he accomplishing this? We begin with an ability to transition the puck.

Transition: Leading & Joining the Rush

The most obvious way that Mete impacts offence is in transition. He’s among the CHL’s most explosive skaters, but also highly effective at controlling his speed. Additionally, Mete’s soft hands, a crisp outlet pass, and aggressive positioning enable him to maximize his lethality in transition.

Mete’s skating features heavily in this article, as it enables him to beat defenders and quickly exploit open ice in a variety of ways. Therefore, it’s important understand why he’s such an explosive skater:

As shown in the clip above, Mete generates power through his crossovers. Not only does this limit energy expenditure, but it allows him to easily change his approach angle and deceive defenders. He has breakaway speed, as well as explosive acceleration, which is a key component to his effectiveness offensively.

In these three clips, Mete showcases a variety of skills: space creation through fakes and tie-ups, activating as a “fourth forward,” quick and accurate passing, lane occupation, tracking the puck, and keeping an open stick. These are skills that he consistently demonstrates, as the rest of the article will demonstrate.

Another important part of his game is that he doesn’t stop after gaining the zone. Unlike many defenders, Mete will activate and become more like a forward. This means that after gaining the zone, Mete keeps the pressure on, and doesn’t give the opposition the space that they would have if he peeled off or retreated early.

Offensive Zone: Constant Movement

Perhaps the biggest difference between this year and last is how Mete approaches offence in the offensive zone (or from the point), particularly noticeable on the power play and four-on-four.

Mete doesn’t have a powerful, overwhelming shot, so instead he seeks to improve his shooting location by activating off the point. Mete’s offensive-zone play is all about maximizing his strengths (skating, stickhandling, and ability to find open space) and minimizing his weaknesses (shot, both in power and getting pucks through traffic).

It begins with Mete’s ability creep in off the point for a backdoor play:

Notice how quickly Mete activates. He doesn’t hesitate, but also rarely puts his team at risk by doing so. He thrives when the puck carrier is able to draw attention to himself, as Mete is given the space to sneak behind the play. His explosive acceleration also enables him to get the hop on defenders, particularly noticeable in the first clip.

By activating off the point, Mete gets closer to the net, meaning his shooting location improves. In the clips above, Mete puts himself in high-danger areas, and with the brilliant Robert Thomas’ (2017 Draft eligible) royal-road-crossing passes, these become high-danger scoring chances.

The second way in which Mete has found success in the offensive zone is through his ability to walk along the point. It was a previous weakness for Mete, who still rattles a few too many pucks off shinguards, but moving around to create a lane has since become a key component of his game.

Firstly, Mete’s movements are controlled, compact, and not flashy. This is key to his effectiveness, as despite being a “risk-taker” in the traditional sense, he doesn’t commit many turnovers. His movements are purposeful and skillful, but not particularly dangerous.

Secondly, notice how the clip doesn’t include Mete utilizing the lanes he creates to shoot (the clips, as always, as specifically chosen to reflect a skill or play that are routinely demonstrated, unless otherwise specified). This remains a work-in-progress. There’s no doubt, given his edge work, acceleration, and hands, that Mete can utilize these tools to generate shooting lanes, but it’s not his primary method of scoring goals.

Finally, all of the three clips are on the powe play. Once again, this is intentional. Mete’s ability to locate and generate passing lanes is best shown on the man-advantage or at four-on-four with the extra space. Generating more shots on goal, particularly at even-strength, will be key in his development going forward.

Bringing it together

Hockey is a game of fluidity. Therefore, it’s important to examine how Mete takes all these details — the transition ability, the lane occupation, explosive skating, blue-line activation, etc. — and turns them into shot attempts and scoring opportunities.

As mentioned, Mete thrives in the open space. The four-on-four sequence is a tremendous demonstration of London Knights hockey in general and Mete’s ability to create seams/lanes for himself and his teammates in particular. Notice how his movements are purposeful, skating quickly and without hesitation into the areas that he wants to occupy.

But Mete can do it at even strength, too. It’s worth mentioning that a significant chunk of his offence is based on what others are doing around him. Perhaps he’s not usually the driver behind these plays (especially backdoor plays), but his anticipation and ability to jump into these lanes are high-end.

How this style translates to the NHL remains to be seen. But not to be lost in all of this is that Mete is an excellent defender. He exhibits the same strengths with the puck that he does without: the skating, smarts, and attention to detail.

It’s those traits that make him such a complete defender, and ultimately, an exciting prospect.

CHL Playoffs

Stats complete up to Monday night

The stat line is disappointing, but Noah Juulsen’s play has been as great as always these playoffs. Victoria has game-planned Juulsen, in two ways: hit him every chance, and swarm him when he has the puck. As a result, Juulsen’s in-zone offence, particularly his shot, has been cut out, so he’s been moving it across the zone instead. Also interesting is how he has dealt with getting hit in the defensive zone shift after shift.

Instead of peeling off and hammering the puck off the boards, Juulsen, without hesitation, skates into the passing location that he wants, fires it, and absorbs the hit. His head is always up, with eyes always looking for a pass outlet first, and a potential hitter second. He seems unfazed by this tactic, remaining composed and disciplined. You kind of wish Juulsen would just peel off for the sake of self-preservation, but it’s a reminder of his resilience.

In Game Six, Juulsen was great throughout, making an impact at both ends of the rink. Victoria’s pressure on Juulsen’s shooting lanes let up, which he fully exploited as he racked up nine shots on goal and 17 shot attempts in regulation, and scored the tying goal after a lucky bounce. Juulsen finished the eight-period game with a staggering 16 shots on goal and 30 shot attempts. Everett went on to the game, and subsequently the series, in the longest game in CHL history.

It was an interesting OHL playoff run for Mikhail Sergachev, to say the least. He continues to show improving defensive acumen and resilience. For example, in Game Three of the Windsor-London series, Sergachev killed off nearly three continuous minutes of a double minor. Thirty seconds later, he was back out there and killed off the rest. In the process, he single-handedly thwarted multiple entry attempts on the blue line and made several clearances.

But I’ve focused a lot on Sergachev’s defence in these playoffs, so let’s talk about offence.

Sergachev is undeniably one of the biggest blue-line threats in all of junior hockey. His massive slapshot wasn’t really been on display in the series, as London was tightly checking him. On the power play, Windsor was utilizing Sergachev as a the setup man for Logan Brown, but he had trouble getting power behind his one-timers. This is roughly half of why Sergachev produced so little these playoffs.

The other half is that Sergachev was playing passively. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. He was focusing on making the simple, effective play. But sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with such a highly-skilled player, you want them to open up their game a bit. And that’s exactly what Sergachev did in the final five minutes of Game Six.

The majority of Games Three and Four saw Victor Mete hemmed in his own zone, uncharacteristically. That’s not to say that Mete played poorly, but he certainly could’ve been better. He whiffed on a pass attempt, allowing Gabriel Vilardi to snipe a goal against. However, in the final minutes of the fourth game, Mete dominated two shifts. Officially credited with just one shot on goal, Mete actually had three on target, and four attempts.

Perhaps the most exciting battle within the war was Vilardi versus Mete. Vilardi, a top prospect for the 2017 NHL Draft, is a beast on the cycle, where he uses quick edge work, great body positioning, and soft hands to grind the opposition down.

Instead of trying to outmuscle Vilardi, Mete used his skating and stickwork to gain the upper hand. Mete would smartly skate in front of the net when Vilardi bulldozed his way behind to cut him off on the wraparound try. When engaged in the cycle, Mete matched Vilardi stride-for-stride while maintaining inside positioning to the goal, preventing Vilardi from getting the free lane he was battling for.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Addison had a quiet return game following his two-game suspension, but made his impact felt with a hat trick in Game Six.

After a solid showing in the playoffs, Michael Pezzetta’s season has reached an early end. Already with two suspensions on the season, Pezzetta threw a heavy crosscheck to the shoulder of Matt Brassard at the final buzzer, resulting in a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Pezzetta has been suspended for two games, one of which will carry into next season.

When he did play proper hockey, he made skillful puck plays across the ice, and also made an impact defensively and physically. The highlight of his postseason was this shorthanded snipe:

Simon Bourque and the Saint John Sea Dogs swept his former team, the Rimouski Océanic. For the first three games, Bourque was unspectacular, but solid. His gap control was tight and controlled all series, which allowed him to heaps of time in the offensive zone.

In Game Four, Bourque orchestrated the game-tying goal around the halfway point of the third. While he did not receive an assist, his smart puck movement was the catalyst for the play. With under four minutes to go, Bourque wound up a shot that deflected off the boards, off a defender, and into the net. It stood as the game-winner.

NCAA/USHL

Casey Staum had his most productive week since the beginning of February. The smooth-skating defender grabbed a pair of assists and racked up the minutes in Saturday’s match versus Omaha. Staum used his excellent edge work and explosive first step to win footraces and lead the breakout with controlled exits. He was also fairly engaged offensively, a rarity in a season dedicated to improving his defensive game.

Staum activated off the blue line a few times, once accelerating into a partial breakaway, and made a few key pinches resulting in extended pressure.

As mentioned, Staum’s biggest improvements this season have come without the puck, and they really showed this weekend. Staum did a great job angling forward away from the net. He had a bit of abrasiveness to his game, as well. Gap control is a strength of his, and he’s become increasingly effective at disrupting zone-entry attempts.

AHL Highlights

This season has been shockingly disappointing for Daniel Carr. He looked like an NHLer coming into the season, but got lost in the shuffle with all the additions up front. Last season, Carr was among the AHL’s best players in his 24 games there, ranking highly in primary points per game. This season, he has just nine primary points, and 11 points in total. And he hasn’t been nearly as noticeable, either.

On March 31 against Binghamton, Carr came out flying. His forechecking ability was on full display, and he also showed some nice moves off the rush. He grabbed just one shot, but had a few more that just missed. He looked like the Carr that endeared himself to Canadiens fans last season; the one that looked like a sure-fire NHLer.

However, just a few shifts into the game, Carr had his head driven into the boards as he fell. He left the game and didn’t return, and has missed time since.

Last year in the AHL, Carr was fantastic. Even though he doesn’t project to be so at the NHL level, he was dynamic in the AHL. His game was simple, but effective: hunt down the puck, battle for it, work it along the cycle, and get to the net for a chance. He was the type of player who got his stick on seemingly every puck. Unfortunately, that has not been the case this AHL season, apart from the odd flash here or there.

Goaltenders