In a previous article, I took a look at whether or not the defense for the Habs had improved from the 2016-’17 year. Cutting to the chase, I concluded that, on paper, the Canadiens would be better defensively (but not offensively) this season making Carey Price’s job easier (which he does a pretty good job of himself.)
There were many fans who thought (not always using nice words) that I had lost my mind. Yet some others agreed reminded me that P.K. Subban won a Norris Trophy.
For the record, I stand by my position. In my opinion, the players added on defense are superior to the ones that they replace. That is true with one exception: Andrei Markov. So far, none of the newcomers is in a position to replace the loss of one of the Habs greatest defenders.
Or is there?
This season, Montreal had a long list of defensemen trying to earn a spot on the big club. The top five, Shea Weber, Karl Alzner, Jeff Petry, Dave Schlemko, and Jamie Benn had already secured their spot on the roster but that sixth and seventh spot was wide open.
No fewer than nine defensemen were vying for the remaining spots. The group of Mark Streit, Eric Gelinas, Joe Morrow, Brandon Davidson, Jacob Jerabek, Matt Taormina, Noah Juulsen, Brett Lernout and Victor Mete had to leave it all out on the ice to earn consideration.
Streit probably had the easiest road, due to his experience and history with the Habs. Jerabek was a big signing from the KHL that many thought would be a shoe-in for the team. Juulsen is the closest Canadiens defense prospect to be NHL-ready but he suffered a foot injury in the pre-season.
Lernout had a great camp and was probably cut too soon. Taormina will log big minutes in the AHL. Morrow, Davidson, and Mete all had to prove they deserved to be there.
By the end of training camp, only one of the six remaining defensemen truly earned his spot on the Habs roster. That was young nineteen-year-old Victor Mete. Even though the team did decide to keep Morrow, Streit, and Davidson, Mete was far and away, the best defensemen of the group.
Mete was so good, in fact, that he earned a top pairing start alongside Weber for opening night against the Buffalo Sabres. It is clear that he has earned the confidence of his head coach and general manager.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 3, 2017
With the Canadiens sporting a losing record in the pre-season, the buzz during training camp was about Mete and whether he could succeed at the NHL level. It seemed that, overnight, Mete became a cult hero in Montreal.
Could Victor Mete be the guy to fill the skates of Andrei Markov? Well, no. Let’s not get carried away by the hype. But are there any similarities between the two most recent regular defense partners of Shea Weber?
Andrei Markov was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the sixth round, 162nd overall, in 1998 as a twenty-year-old. Markov played two years with Dynamo Moscow and was regarded as one of the best defensemen in Russia. He was an offensive force and great puck-moving defensemen, to compliment Patrice Brisebois, the teams’ only offensive-minded rearguard.
Markov joined the Canadiens in the 2000-’01 season, at the age of 23, playing in 63 games and scoring 23 points. He had a brief stint with their AHL team but quickly got his defensive style corrected and went on to become the best all-around defensemen on the team.
Now, almost twenty years later, Victor Mete is making waves with the Canadiens and trying to be a similar offensive-minded to help compliment Weber and Petry. Mete was drafted by the Habs in the fourth round, 100th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Mete was a star defenseman for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League helping the team win a Memorial Cup in 2016. Markov helped lead Dynamo Moscow to the Russian League Cup in 1998.
Mete had an outstanding training camp where he played himself into a top pairing role. In his first year, Markov played himself onto the first power-play wave, scoring 16 of his 23 points with the man advantage.
Markov is bigger then Mete at 6 foot, 200 pounds. Mete is only 5-foot-9-inches, 184 pounds which can be an issue when trying to defend against bigger, stronger players.
At this point it’s much too early to determine whether Mete will be the next Markov or the next Rory Fitzpatrick (or something in between.) But the praise coming from coach Julien signals that Mete is the real deal and should be manning the Habs blueline for years to come.
Mete clearly has the speed and may also have the hands and hockey sense needed to excel in today’s NHL. Size and strength is not on his side but the NHL isn’t the same league anymore. Speed is more important than size. Mete’s role will be to move the puck and generate offense.
According to team personnel, Mete plays beyond his nineteen years of age. He has the maturity and poise to be on the team and to be playing average minutes. If he can finish the season with 20-25 points then comparisons to Markov may surface. And the young man from Woodbridge will be the unexpected answer to the void created by the departure of Markov and the trading of Mikhail Sergachev.