Canadiens’ Victor Mete styling game after Leafs’ Morgan Rielly

Canadian national junior team prospect Victor Mete, on loan from the Montreal Canadiens, takes part in a drill on the first day of selection camp for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship in St. Catharines, Ont., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. (Aaron Lynett/CP)

Victor Mete has plenty of NHL goals in the grand sense, just not any actual NHL goals — the kind that alight a red siren and compel fans to bang the Bell Centre glass. Yet.

After a strong training camp allowed him to work his way into a Montreal Canadiens lineup as a teenager, Mete dressed in 49 games during his rookie campaign. He contributed seven assists, blocked 71 shots, registered positive possession metrics and put up a better plus/minus than any other Habs defender. Mete’s plus-5 stands out on a club that posted a disastrous minus-55 goal differential over the course of 2017-18.

What Mete failed to do, however, was hit — he’s thrown all of one official big-league body check — and score. A 359-day-old doughnut will sit under the “G” column of Mete’s stat line when the puck drops in October.

Strange, perhaps, after the 2016 fourth-rounder flexed all kinds of offensive flair in his third and final OHL run, piling up 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games for London in 2016-17.

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So as soon as Montreal’s season ended, Mete could still be spotted at an NHL rink. With access to a private box, the Woodbridge, Ont., native and childhood Maple Leafs fan attended all three Round 1 games of the Leafs-Bruins series in Toronto.

His eyes were drawn, in particular, to another young left-shot D-man whose offensive game needed time to nurture.

“I love watching Morgan Rielly. I think I style my game after him — or try to anyway. I was able to see Rielly live, so it was really good,” Mete, now 20, explains in a recent interview. Rielly scored just twice as a rookie; five years later, he’s a 52-point D-man.

“He’s a really good skater. He has great offensive and defensive instincts. His ability to jump into the play and be that fourth man in makes their attack that much better. And then it’s his ability to play in the defensive zone and stop guys. Obviously he’s not the biggest guy, but he acts like he’s a big guy.”

Such will be the challenge thrown at the five-foot-nine, 184-pound Mete, whose ambitions exceed his frame. He’s another cog in a growing movement for the small, agile blueliner.

“The goal is to play in the top four as much as I can, play as much as I can, be the best I can be and get a lot of trust from the coaching staff, so they put me in some key situations,” Mate says. On average, coach Claude Julien used Mete 15:35 per night, tossed him some power-play shifts but sheltered him from the penalty kill.

“I’m hoping to get a lot of minutes. I have to make the team again. I know that.”

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Already thin at D, Montreal will play the first couple months of the season without its best defenceman, the knee-rehabbing Shea Weber, which should free early-season minutes for up-and-comers like Mete and Noah Juulsen.

“We don’t want him to rush back because that could lead to bigger and longer injuries,” Mete says. “We want him to take all the time he needs to get better and come back when he can.”

Mete can take some measure of comfort from shedding the rookie nerves, which hit him like a raging bull in his first road game.

“Ovechkin,” Mete says. The kid needn’t continue but does anyhow. “I remember him coming down on me. I was kinda scared. Good thing he dumped the puck in because I had no idea what he was gonna do. I think he got three goals in the first period against us that game.” All told Ovie lit up the Canadiens for four goals in a 6-1 beatdown, and Mete finished a minus-2 on the night.

“That was a star-struck moment for me.”

Once he was finished studying Rielly’s moves this off-season, Mete took time to play beach volleyball and snorkel coral reefs in Jamaica, a semi-regular vacation spot (“I love fish and water,” he exclaims) and bolt to the cottage with family and friends.

He’s now back training diligently Monday through Friday, preparing a go-get-it mindset for when camp starts next month and his goal quest begins again in earnest.

Julien left Mete with a simple encouragement heading into Year 2.

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” Mete recalls his coach saying, “and I think you can be that guy.

“Just keep working, plug away, and you can do it.”


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