MONTREAL -- Let’s get something straight: Monday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks is NOT a showcase for Victor Mete.
There are teams that would gladly trade for Mete if he were made available by Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, and one game -- good or bad -- wouldn’t change his worth one iota. And as Bergevin texted The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun on Saturday in the aftermath of Mete's agent Darren Ferris telling several reporters they’d prefer if Mete could be traded, he isn’t trading Mete.
We’re eight games into a shortened season that’s already made it clear depth is the most valuable commodity a team can possess. Injuries have popped up in every market, as they do every season, and over 60 players have already been placed in COVID-19 protocol -- meaning they’ve been quarantined after either testing positive for the virus or having been exposed to someone who has. Shipping a 22-year-old defenceman who can unquestionably play at this level, a player with 171 games of experience, doesn’t make any sense at this stage of the season -- especially if the desired return on that player is an NHL-capable type who would be facing a mandatory 14-day quarantine coming from the United States.
Doing it would impact Montreal’s depth, even with Cale Fleury waiting on the taxi squad and some other serviceable players behind him in Laval, and Bergevin has made it clear he has no interest in that. It’s why he kept Mete as the seventh defenceman out of training camp, knowing that waiving him to the taxi squad would mean giving him up to another team for nothing.
So, Mete is playing on Monday, and it’s for one reason and one reason only.
“I had a discussion with him last week and told him that we wanted to put him in the lineup soon because he had a good training camp,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien after Mete replaced Brett Kulak and lined up to the right of Alex Romanov at Monday’s morning skate. “We’ve been healthy so far, but you can’t leave a player like that in the stands for too long. I told him we’d find him a place, and tonight’s a good place to start.”
Not that it will be easy. The Canucks look like a very different team from the one that lost two of three games to Montreal just a week-and-a-half ago.
They’ve rattled off four straight wins, Elias Pettersson has gone from stone cold to red hot with five points in his last three, and Brock Boeser is suddenly sharing the NHL lead in goals (eight) with Connor McDavid.
That will be a challenge for a Canadiens team that’s still on top of its game despite a loss to the Calgary Flames Saturday, and certainly one for Mete, who’s starting at a considerable deficit.
Montreal’s Nick Suzuki isn’t too concerned, though.
“(Mete’s) been a true professional,” the 21-year-old said. “See him every day in the gym, before the games he’s working out and just doing whatever he can do to be prepared. I think he’s always been like that. He’s just itching for his time to get back in the lineup.”
The former fourth-round pick in 2016 plays a high-flying brand and has produced four goals and 31 points over his three seasons with the Canadiens.
“(Mete’s) going to bring a lot of speed, beat his one-on-ones, and of course he’s going to be a dynamic player,” said Canadiens winger Artturi Lehkonen. “He’s a fast player, so he’s going to use that for his advantage.”
The Canadiens were relying on Kulak for much the same, and Kulak has provided it regularly since the season started.
“If there’s one thing I can say about Kulak it’s that he’s played some very good hockey since the start,” said Julien. “We have no issues with him, and the only reason he’s not playing tonight is because we need to bring in a player like Mete because we decided as an organization that we don’t want players who are available to us pushed aside for too long.”
Julien added that we could see a rotation towards the bottom end of his lineup as the season moves forward.
One player also rotating back into Montreal’s lineup for Monday’s game is Josh Anderson, who was removed from Saturday’s loss to the Flames after the first period. Julien said Anderson was pulled and sent home as a precaution after he exhibited “flu-like symptoms,” and he confirmed Anderson tested negative for COVID-19 both on Saturday and in subsequent tests since.