All summer long, there was a discussion revolving around the Canadiens’ blueline. Why did Marc Bergevin choose to revamp the left side of the defence? Which players should have been kept? Which players acquired?
In most cases, on paper, the Canadiens general manager found upgrades. Karl Alzner is a clear upgrade over Alexei Emelin who was lost in the NHL expansion draft before being traded to Nashville. David Schlemko is yet to be seen on the ice wearing a Canadiens uniform. Yet his play with other teams as a secondary puck mover and as an effective defensive player is an upgrade over the inconsistent play of Nathan Beaulieu. With all of the physical skills at his disposal, Beaulieu may yet prove his value far outweighs the return of a third round pick (Scott Walford).
That said, one glaring issue remains. Bergevin failed to find a partner for Shea Weber on the top pair, after the departure of Andrei Markov. Despite his advancing age, Markov was still a very capable top-four defender with excellent vision and puck-moving skills.
Of the players currently in camp, who can possibly play with Shea? The names of Schlemko, Jakub Jerabek, and even Jordie Benn have been whispered on social media, but none are ideal. It is unlikely that any of the players mentioned could handle playing the number of quality minutes with one of the league’s best shutdown defenceman.
Enter the surprise storyline at this year’s Canadiens training camp, Victor Mete. The 2016 fourth round selection has been turning the heads of not only the fan base but also management. The 19-year-old defenceman has been able to put up two assists in as many preseason games.
Our Rocket Sports crew has had a chance to evaluate Mete and interview him twice this summer at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth and at the Rookie Tournament in Toronto.
Two things are clear even with just a cursory viewing of Mete. He loves the offensive side of the game and has elite skating ability.
The Woodbridge, Ontario native played in front of friends and family in Toronto, versus the Maple Leafs on Monday. In that game, Mete served up a perfect pass to Jeff Petry who scored the lone Habs goal on the power-play. Last week, he was able to spring another young hopeful, Charles Hudon, for a power-play goal with a perfectly-placed pass through traffic.
His offensive awareness has earned him high praise from head coach Claude Julien with comparisons to, Torey Krug, a similarly diminutive puck-moving defenceman in Boston.
Mete’s play has also been noticed by Canadiens veterans. They are complimentary about his ability to focus and his poise in all situations. Jonathan Drouin commented in French about Mete’s confidence and his ability to play his position.
“Il est confiant dans ses moyens. Confiant mais même s’il fait une erreur il est capable de réparer ses erreurs” — Jonathan Drouin
Mete’s defensive poise was evident against a very fast and skilled Maple Leaf offence. He was able to showcase his skating ability and positional play against top opposition. Mete also flawlessly used his speed to create separation when carrying the puck.
Mete demonstrated that he can also calmly recover from mistakes. When he mishandled a drop pass and lost the puck, he pivoted, corralled the puck and simply made a high percentage outlet pass despite pressure from an opposition forechecker. For a young player his poise and situational awareness is impressive.
We will be seeing more of Mete in the pre-season as coach Julien has seen enough to commit to the youngster until the end of training camp.
— Blain Potvin (@Potsy_70) September 26, 2017
In my opinion, it would seem that Mete is on a path to earn a regular season look. His nine game audition could become something that shuffles the deck on Montreal’s defensive depth chart and opens the door to possibilities for management.
Fans should keep in mind that as long as Mete plays no more than nine games, his Entry Level Contract (ELC) can slide one year of eligibility. If he were to play a tenth, the first year of his three year ELC would be burned.
But here is the question. Is Mete prepared to play 20-plus minutes per game paired with Shea Weber facing many of the top players in the NHL? So far, in the preseason, he has shown himself capable. The true test will come if he is afforded a nine-game, regular season audition.
Canadiens’ management has always said that they want young prospects to force them to make difficult decisions. Mete has been doing exactly that. Given that management has been unsuccessful as yet finding a partner for Shea Weber, the door was left open and Mete has stepped through it.