The NHL regular season is underway and the Montreal Canadiens have entered the season with a slightly upgraded team. The two biggest issues entering the season were securing a backup goalie as well as improve the left side on defence. The Canadiens fulfilled these needs early on by first signing Keith Kinkaid to a one-year deal. They later signed Ben Chiarot to a three-year deal slightly upgrading their left side as he will replace Jordie Benn. However, most fans will suggest it is the top-pairing that truly needed to be upgraded. Chiarot was never expected to play with Shea Weber. So who would get the duties of playing the top-pairing with the Habs captain? The answer is the same as it has been the past two seasons. Victor Mete.
Victor Mete Poised for Breakout Season for the Canadiens
Mete was originally drafted by the Canadiens in the fourth round, 100th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Not in a million years would anyone have expected Victor Mete to earn a roster spot even at this point in his career. Fourth-round picks are usually longshots to make the NHL. Defenceman also usually take longer to develop. However, Mete showed up and had a tremendous camp entering the 2017-18 season and earned a spot on the Canadiens opening night roster. It was at that point the Shea Weber took the youngster under his wing and the two gelled early on.
However, a season-ending injury to Weber had Mete left exposed. He could not quite put his defensive game together and found himself a healthy scratch on occasion. Mete then suffered an injury of his own on March 2nd, 2018 against the New York Islanders which put him out for the remainder of the season.
Up and Down 2018-19 Season
Victor Mete came back to camp rearing to prove that he was capable of being the top pairing defenceman the Habs slotted him in as on opening night a year prior. He was paired with another Habs youngster Noah Juulsen to start the pre-season but winded up alternating between Jeff Petry and Xavier Ouellet to start the season. With Weber finally making his return to the lineup on November 27th against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Canadiens would finally have their top-pairing back. However, the Habs elected to send Mete to Laval to fine-tune his game before getting him back alongside the Habs top defenceman.
The decision paid huge dividends for the Canadiens, as Mete played well under head coach Joel Bouchard. Mete scored his first goal as a professional and added three assists in seven games with Laval before being called back up to the Canadiens. It was then that Mete would be paired up with Weber for the remainder of the season.
The demotion seemed to make all the difference to Mete. He came back to the lineup a completely different player. It’s hard to believe seven games in the minors could make such an impact on a player. However, Mete saw his coach Claude Julien start to trust him even more. His ice time was increased to over 19 minutes a game on average. He also saw time on the Habs penalty kill. Mete looked to be a more complete player to close out the season and finished the year with 13 assists in 71 games.
Putting in Work During the Off-season
Victor Mete is already in possession of a few of the tools that teams are looking for in their defenceman these days. Great skating and puck-moving abilities. Mete is arguably the best skater the Canadiens have and his puck-moving and transition game are outstanding. However, his deficiencies are obvious. He does not have great size, standing at just 5’9” and weighing 187 pounds. Size is not something Mete can fix, however. He could bulk up a bit sure. However, there is no way for him to physically stretch his body and make himself grow a few inches. What he can work on though is his shot. This is clearly his biggest weakness as Mete has now gone 122 games without scoring a goal in the NHL.
Knowing that this needed to be improved, Mete went looking for help in the off-season with the goal of improving his shot to make him a better offensive player for the Canadiens. He turned to no other than Tim Turk. Turk is a skills specialist who specializes in teaching shooting techniques.
Turk examines Mete from the way he positions himself while he is shooting right down to the flex of his stick. He believes that Mete’s shot can be a weapon at the NHL level with some minor tweaks. This is why Mete decided to seek out the help of Turk, who also works with teammate Brendan Gallagher. He breaks everything down to a science and his methods seem to work. Gallagher has put up back-to-back 30 goal seasons for the Canadiens. Mete spent five sessions in the off-season working with Turk in hopes it would help improve the biggest weakness of his game.
Ready to Break Out in the 2019-20 Season
After putting in the work in the off-season, Mete is ready to build off his late-season success. Having Weber around to start the season this year is a huge plus. The two players complement each other beautifully. Weber is a big physical defenceman while Mete is a small swift skating defenceman. Weber’s strong defencive game will also allow Mete to play his game and take more chances in the offensive zone. Mete will be able to jump into the play more knowing that Weber is back defending. This will allow him to be more productive from the back end.
In a recent interview with Stu Cowan of the “Montreal Gazette”, Mete says, “I think we kind of work hand in hand. He’s big and physical and I’m smaller and faster. If he can kind of do the dirty work in the corners, I can come in and scoop up the puck and we can spend the least amount of time in the defensive zone as possible and play more in the offensive zone, which benefits both of us. We’re both pretty good at communicating. If we have a problem with one another with our play, we’ll talk about it and come to an agreement.”
The communication here is key. As a defence pairing, you need to be able to communicate and provide that support for one another. It seems as though Mete and Weber have gained a lot of trust in each other over the past three years. This, in turn, will show in their on-ice performance. This will prove beneficial to Mete finally breaking out this season. He will become that top-pairing defenceman that he is being cast as on the Canadiens back end.
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