Victor Mete again showed his effectiveness on Tuesday night
The diminutive defenceman has been playing like a veteran next to Shea Weber and showing a lot of poise.
Victor Mete just had another very good game against the Anaheim Ducks. In the last few weeks, he has consistently been one of the Montreal Canadiens’ best defencemen, pushing his effectiveness to a new level.
The elements that made him successful in Junior hockey are clearly on display. He uses his speed to his advantage: he jumps on the attack and gets back down in time to make great use of his stick to break plays off the rush and in-zone. But now, those strengths are augmented by a lot of confidence since coming back from his stint with Joël Bouchard and the Laval Rocket.
Mete is also starting to show experience. He has played close to 100 games now and has picked up some tricks. The defenceman is not done improving, but we are already seeing an evolved version.
Take a look at this defensive sequence in the first period:
Mete is pressured by one of the Ducks’ best players, Rickard Rakell, but he doesn’t rush his play. He knows he can’t start a controlled exit from a puck that is rimmed toward the back of the zone as Rakell is too close to him and coming in with speed. Instead, he decides to neutralize the attacker and let one of his teammates attempt a better play than he could.
There are a few inches that separate the two players, but Mete raises one of his arms and uses his strong balance to slow down Rakell and prevent him from getting any access to the puck, allowing Brendan Gallagher to take control as he swoops in.
A few second later, he does the same thing again. He controls the hips of Rakell, pressing him against the boards, finds the puck and pushes it ahead to Jonathan Drouin. When the breakout is again stopped, it’s Mete who reverses the puck to Shea Weber for a final and successful exit.
Size matters, but good body positioning and strong skating can overcome a lot of disadvantages.
Another sequences shows a newfound poise in Mete’s game:
On rush defence, he starts by forcing Corey Perry into a cutback with his quick feet, pushing him into his backcheckers. He then cuts a pass to the slot and immediately supports the attack upon gaining possession. After a give-and-go, he enters the offensive zone, stopping to create space for himself.
The Mete of last year, or even of just a few weeks ago, would have likely taken a step and shot that puck on net low, hoping for a rebound, or found one of his trailing teammates with a pass. But with his added confidence, Mete skates all the way to the top of the circle when he sees he has space to do so and releases a wrist shot on net.
The shot is saved by Chad Johnson, and the Habs cycle the puck back to him. It bobbles off his stick, but Mete doesn’t panic. He knows he is quicker than the closest opponent (again Rakell), so he accelerates and gets his body in front of the opponent’s. He gets up after falling to the ice, finds support, and slides the puck over to Nicolas Deslauriers up the ice.
In the long run, Victor Mete may not be the ideal partner for Weber, but he deserves his current spot on the top pairing. His game is not perfect, but contrary to his previous stints there, he shows no signs of being overwhelmed and has been effective in the hard minutes he has been given.