Here’s a bet you can safely make right now: Victor Mete is going to start the season with the Montreal Canadiens.
If it wasn’t clear in the lead up to this point in training camp that the 19-year-old defenceman is here to stay, it became abundantly so after his performance in Montreal’s 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday in Quebec City.
The evidence is palpable when you see Mete’s skating stride. It’s certainly easy to find in his decision making. But it’s absolutely irrefutable in the poise with which he conducts himself on the ice, making plays with zero hesitation and executing precisely in all three zones.
Mete may not have hit the scoresheet against the Leafs, but his best self was once again on display in this one. He was seamless on the breakout, engaged in the offensive zone—his pinch to jam up the boards on an attempted Leafs clear while the Canadiens were on the power play allowed teammate Andrew Shaw to put Montreal up 2-0—and he was in the right position throughout the game.
He’s making this team on his own merit, but it certainly helps that no one else in the running for a job on the blue line is grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns.
In light of all that, here’s another bold prediction for you to take to the bank: When the puck drops in Buffalo for Montreal’s season opener against the Sabres on Oct. 5, Mete will be on the Canadiens’ top defensive pairing alongside Shea Weber.
It’s where he’s been since the beginning of training camp, and it’s where he’s likely to remain as the Canadiens continue to prepare for a meaningful game.
Montreal coach Claude Julien had said at camp’s opening that the spot next to Weber was the perfect place to evaluate Mete from—a spot that allows him to showcase his mobility and the other assets he brings to the table. He had said that this would make for a good experience for the junior-eligible Toronto native, who projects to be an NHLer down the road. And he also said that the intention was to try several players next to Weber as camp moved along.
But that last part hasn’t happened.
Jordie Benn, who has played most of his career as a lefty on the right side, started on the left and figured to be a possibility for an audition next to Weber. But Benn’s play from the left side left something to be desired through the first week of camp, and he’s since moved back to the right in practices and pre-season games.
David Schlemko, whom the Canadiens acquired in a trade with Vegas this past summer, was another candidate for a shot next to Weber. He still might get one at some point in the near future, but a bruised hand has kept him sidelined for the better part of this camp.
Julien said on Sunday that he was hopeful Schlemko would return before the regular season got underway, but there’s been no sign of him at Canadiens practice as of yet.
Newcomer Jakub Jerabek and PTO invitee Eric Gelinas have fared decently so far, but both appear much more immersed in the battle to make the team rather than the one to play alongside Weber.
And Brandon Davidson, Mark Streit and Joe Morrow have been anything but convincing in their performances thus far.
“We’re going to lace up the six best defencemen,” said Julien after Wednesday’s loss made the Canadiens 0-6-0 in the pre-season.
Considering Mete’s arguably No. 1 on the list so far, it’s unfathomable he won’t be one of the six Julien’s referring to.
Karl Alzner, who signed a five-year, $23.1 million contract with the Canadiens on July 1, is locked into the team’s second pairing with Jeff Petry. And Benn will likely have one of Schlemko, Streit or Jerabek with him on any given night.
As the competition ramps up and as the games take on a different complexion—Toronto didn’t dress a single one of their top-9 forwards on Wednesday—we’re going to see how Mete handles himself. Two more pre-season games against more veteran-laden lineups are going to factor into the evaluation.
But it’s hard to imagine Mete’s play will suddenly fall off a cliff.
“He keeps playing well,” said Julien. “The time will come to make the final decision, and if he’s still here that’ll be a good sign.”
A fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft graduating to the NHL in his second year of eligibility? That’s as big of a silver lining as you could find in what’s been a dreary Canadiens training camp.
It’s all but guaranteed that part will come to pass.