It took just over a year for Victor Mete to go from a fourth-round draft pick in 2016 to playing regular shifts in the NHL alongside the revered Shea Weber in the 2017-18 NHL campaign.
The 100th overall selection embraced and passed a multitude of challenges that many, including maybe himself, did not foresee when he laced up for the Montreal Canadiens training camp last year.
With the departures of Andrei Markov and Nathan Beaulieu, among others, new bench boss Claude Julien was clearly in need of a smooth-skating defenceman. Mete stood out in camp and brought plenty of those “new-age” essentials that helped the coach accept the then 19-year-old.
Mete had appeared in 27 games with the Canadiens when Dominique Ducharme and Team Canada called, likely begging for the Habs to loan them the talented defenceman for the World Junior Hockey Championship.
To that point in the season, Mete had put up four assists and a 51% Corsi rating while playing an average of 15 minutes per game. With the Canadiens in no man’s land in the overall standings, they decided to bless Team Canada with Mete’s abilities. He went on to make more of a name for himself, as he helped the nation win gold while playing mostly on the top pair with Conor Timmins.
Mete could have hung up his skates for the season then already surpassing what anybody should expect from a mid-round teenage defence prospect. At that time, however, Montreal was performing well below expectations. They had to switch gears, and particularly with Mete, they had to decide what to do best by his development.
Had they chosen to send the 5’9” defenceman back to the London Knights of the OHL, Mete’s quality of competition and teammates would have significantly dropped, but he would have been a candidate to represent Team Canada once again, at the 2018 Olympics.
Ultimately, the Canadiens thought it was best to welcome Mete back, where he would go on to play 22 more games before sustaining a season-ending finger injury.
Mete finished with zero goals and seven assists in 49 games in what was overall a very successful season for one of the NHL’s youngest players.
Eleven of the 14 voters placed Mete between 3 and 5, which probably has a lot to do with how he finished fourth with an average ranking of 4.79. Votes ranged from being seen as the Habs’ second-best young player under 25 to two placements outside of the top five.
Top 25 Under 25 History
After being introduced into the project at number 19 in 2016, Mete jumped up seven spots to number 12 thanks to showing improvement in London during the 2015-16 campaign. Now, after his first professional season, the defender leaps up another eight spots to number four.
Mete has a lot of tools required to be a full-time defenceman in today’s NHL. Success in this league is driven by quick transition play and providing high-danger opportunities while, of course, limiting the ones against.
Mete became an early favourite to be Weber’s partner because the Man Mountain is not someone who prefers to rush the puck. Mete, with a very smooth stride, willingness to skate with the puck, and knack for picking the right spots on the ice seemed like a natural fit.
As per Natural Stat Trick, in 188 minutes together, the pair played some relatively good hockey, posting a 52% Corsi-for percentage and 60% of the high-danger shot attempts while they were on the ice.
It was a simple concept: with his forward-like skating skills, and dependable decision-making, Mete would start the breakout for the Habs while Weber would make up for any errors the rookie may commit.
The duo did concede more than they could attain, with just seven goals for and 12 goals against while they were on the ice together. Despite this, Julien knew he had something in Mete he could utilize.
The rookie’s skating isn’t just about his ability. He isn’t a player who seems to need to show off his skills or make a big play. He is timely and efficient in his decisions to skate, pass, or dump the puck, ending the season second to Jeff Petry in terms of gaining the offensive zone.
Ultimately, Julien decided the young skater was better suited against lower competition. In 476 minutes without Weber, Mete maintained a high-danger Corsi-for percentage of 62% and had a positive goal differential of 25 for and just 14 against.
Ironically, it then became Mete’s duty to make up for his teammate’s mistakes.
As the above video demonstrates, Mete’s skating, intelligence, and timing weren’t just utilized on the offensive end. In fact, Mete’s biggest strength this year actually came in the form of limiting his opponent’s high-danger chances.
There’s little that could be considered a weakness to Mete’s generally impressive underlying game – especially given is age and experience. He has the tools to excel in most areas and it is still too early to determine where his peaks will be.
But if there is one thing that Mete must do to take a step forward next season, it is to contribute more to the offensive side of the game.
Mete was in the lower half of the league in the categories that relate to passes most likely to become a goal — expected primary points (xPrP60) and goals (ixG60) per 60 minutes. It’s likely the biggest factor of why he recorded just two primary assists at five-on-five all season.
However, Mete has shown an ability to pass the puck, within top percentiles at passes through the slot or behind the net. He has also shown at lower levels of competition that he can break down defensive schemes with good pivots and slick passes.
With more conditioning and games under his belt, it isn’t unreasonable to believe these numbers take a big step forward next season.
The other big concern for Mete is his size in front of the net. he can still be pushed around by bigger NHL forwards and it is important for him to be able to gain strength in order to push back while standing in front of his goalkeeper.
Last season’s projection for Mete was a return to Junior with a chance to taste NHL action at the end of the season given the right circumstances.
Well, he accomplished way more than that.
Mete’s growth curve has become a spectacle to witness and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he could surprise us again this season.
Now expectations are that Mete finds himself in a full-time role, with some games sitting for reflection and to give an opportunity to veterans.
Were Weber healthy to begin the year, Mete would have likely started again on his left side on a trial basis versus top competition. With Weber out, Petry will have to anchor the top pair again, making Mete’s likely spot as the puck-mover on the second pairing. With the Habs’ defence corps still in flux, it is okay to expect that Mete should see a shuffle of partners until Julien has found the right mesh.
Either way, Mete is expected to take another step forward toward being an integral part of the Canadiens’ future.