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Catching The Torch: Canadiens prospects report & highlights — Victor Mete’s intriguing style

A weekly report on the how the amateur Montreal Canadiens prospects are faring.

NHL: Preseason-Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

With a majority of prospects back with their teams, we bring you the first installment of our weekly series: Catching the Torch. Each article will feature reports on all Habs' prospects playing at the junior (OHL, WHL), collegiate (USHL, NCAA), and professional (ECHL) level, and an in-depth look at one or two players.

Last Thursday marked the official beginning of the CHL season. But the spotlight was not on Will Bitten or any of Montreal's defencemen in the WHL. One guy is drawing all the attention: Victor Mete.

Prospect Spotlight: Victor Mete, LD/RD, London Knights

At the beginning of training camp, the hype surrounding the 19-year-old was due more to his position on the top pairing than his on-ice performance. He didn't have a spectacular Rookie Tournament.

Regardless, the coaching staff made the decision to place him with Shea Weber, rewarding the young defender for his great season with London and giving him an opportunity to learn from the experienced defencemen. Since then, Mete has looked better and better. As he's started to adjust to the NHL game, he has begun to show some of the skills that made him successful last season.

Although Mete will need a partner who can promptly help him along the boards, he already has elements in his game that should make him efficient defensively at the next level.

The undersized defenceman is smart and proficient with his stick. He doesn't always directly challenge zone entries, but he makes sure to not allow shots on net in that situation. When he has the opportunity, he's able to gain body positioning over an attacker rushing past the blue line, protecting the puck and allowing for a supporting teammate to take it away.

The most talked about aspects of Mete's game — and rightfully so — remain his incredible quickness and speed. He is probably one of the top skaters the Habs roster currently boasts.

In the last few weeks, he hasn't had many occasions to rush the puck from his own zone or activate from the offensive blue line. But he still had some moments where he showcased his skating ability; like in the three-on-three intra-squad overtime, where he easily separated himself from Brendan Gallagher.

Mete's quickness doesn't only serve him in transitions. When the game you're used to playing accelerates significantly in pace, it's important to be able to adjust rapidly. It's something Mete can do, even if he has had some issues keeping up with his man in the defensive zone. It's better to not be one step behind or caught puck watching, but Mete's four-way mobility means he can correct himself on the ice, and jump on loose pucks.

A great article by Mitch Brown a few months ago described the distinctive playstyle of Mete: how he always looks to skate into the high-danger areas to create scoring chances. At the NHL level, there's less space on the ice for him to do that consistently, however he still has found some of those opportunities with the man advantage in the pre-season.

Slowly growing in confidence during the game versus the Washington Capitals, he tried to become an option for a pass across the slot multiple times with a few minutes left, failing to capitalize when he finally received the puck.

In his first pre-season game, when Mete's defence partner, Jakub Jerabek, decided to act as a forward on the man advantage, the undersized defenceman had no problem becoming the sole pivot on the point, moving on the blue line and quickly distributing the puck.

Mete's two points on the power play also say a lot about his potential as a playmaker. When given the opportunity, he moves deeper in the zone, taking full advantage of the space given to him, and opening up the lane to feed the puck to his teammates.

Towards the end of Monday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, something seemed to have clicked for him as he decided to go for it and carry the puck up the ice himself, like he'd been doing for London. He also had a great scoring chance just a few minutes later.

That latter play resulted in another two-on-one against, but that's why he's paired with Weber in the pre-season.

It's common practice to compare prospects to NHLers to better understand their skill sets. Those comparison are often exaggerated, especially when talking about young players, but in the case of Mete, Claude Julien noting the resemblance between his new charge and Torey Krug is a very encouraging sign. The diminutive offensive defencemen of the Boston Bruins has found a way to adapt his game to the NHL through the years, something Mete seems well on his way to achieving.

While they both have great skating ability and a tendency to jump into the play in the offensive zone, Mete still needs some seasoning before he could hope to match the skill and the poise Krug has with the puck at the next level.

The Bruins defenceman became a fierce and relentless competitor on the boards, adding weight to his frame, and displaying strength. It allowed him to make an immediate impact in the Bruins’ 2013 playoff run at 22 years of age; his first extended stint with the team from which the following clips were taken.

Mete is still young and already has great balance on his skates, so there's both time and promising elements that should allow the Habs prospect to grow his game. He will remain with the team for at least a little while longer to get some more experience and a better understanding of what he needs to work on. And who knows? If David Schlemko remains injured and Mete keeps being a bright spot in an overall disappointing camp, he might get to play some real NHL games soon.

NCAA - USHL

NCAA hockey officially starts on October 6, but certain teams like St. Cloud State have their home opener a week earlier. Catching The Torch will follow Montreal's first-round pick, Ryan Poehling, closely this season. His team welcomes the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and Nikolas Koberstein in a few weeks’ time.

Cayden Primeau has decided to join the Northeastern Huskies this season, while Casey Staum — the Habs’ fifth-round pick in 2016 — will play one more year in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints before he likely commits to the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Weekly CHL performances

Player Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Pos League Team GP G A P
William Bitten RW OHL Hamilton 1 0 0 0
Michael Pezzetta C OHL Sudbury 1 2 1 3
Cale Fleury RD WHL Kootenay 2 0 0 0
Jarret Tyszka LD WHL Seattle 1 0 0 0
Scott Walford LD WHL Victoria 2 0 0 0

It was not a productive week for Habs prospects in the CHL, as most of them did not feature anywhere on the scoresheet. Cale Fleury had it especially rough finishing with a combined -3 in the Kootenay ICE's back-to-back games versus the Calgary Hitmen this weekend.

Michael Pezzetta had an incredible game Sunday night when he rejoined the Sudbury Wolves after missing the home-opener for the team, serving the final game of a two-game ban issued during last season's playoffs. Pezzetta found the back of the net twice and added an assist against the North Bay Battalion.

Late in the game, after suffering a crushing hit entering the offensive zone, Pezzetta slowly left the ice. He returned on his next shift to score the Wolves' fifth goal on a breakaway. After taking away the puck from a Battalion defenceman at center ice, he went high blocker side on Julian Sime; a hard shot that chased the goalie from the game. Unfortunately, Sudbury would blow their 5-2 lead late in the third period, losing the game 6-5.

Pezzatta started his season with another bang, but this time it was not the sound of broken noses. After accumulating multiple suspensions in the previous season, let's hope his performance in his first few game marks a new beginning for him. Entering his fourth year in the OHL, he needs to start producing more and showing progress in his play to stay in the plans of the organization.

Overall, the biggest news this week is from Moose Jaw. Josh Brook's wrist injury sustained in the Rookie Tournament necessitated surgery. He's expected miss eight to 12 weeks, leaving the Warriors without their top defenceman for a while.

“There was a time frame to consider waiting and seeing how it healed and potentially rehab and would he be able to manage the injury throughout the year, but between Montreal, our team, Josh’s family and his agency, we all determined that it was in his best interest to get the wrist fixed.” — Moose Jaw Warriors general manager Alan Miller

The expectations are high for the Habs’ 2017 second-round pick. He was already playing against the top forwards of the other teams last season and showed flashes of great offensive talent while doing so. We will have to wait to see if Brook can build on his accomplishments to developing more consistency in his game, add some skating speed, and show more of his playmaking skills.

Next week we will take a look at William Bitten and the Hamilton Bulldogs. With the departure of Michael Cramarossa, the energetic Habs prospect has now been given the opportunity to centre the Bulldogs’ top line alongside Matthew Strome and a talented newcomer for the team, Arthur Kaliyez.