Is Victor Mete An Offensive Star in the Making?
Why I believe the Canadiens' blueliner is on the fast track to be a driving force on the attack
Just under three years ago, Victor Mete became an NHL regular for the Montreal Canadiens.
It wasn’t until ten months ago that he scored his first NHL goal.
Despite that, I believe the former fourth-round pick, who turned up on the Canadiens’ defense as an obscure name and scored his first professional goal 744 days later, has the potential to turn into a full-time, top-pair defenseman that will specialize in helping his team score a lot of goals. It may seem far-fetched now, but plenty of the initial signs that indicate such a possibility are already here. Mete is most known among Habs fans and supporters of other teams alike for the aforementioned goal drought and being an entertaining follow on Instagram (seriously, you’re missing out if you don’t already follow), but I envision a possible career path where what he is known for today will eventually become a distant memory.
His playing style is unorthodox compared to most budding offensive d-men; not so much in terms of how they drive offense, but more in terms of how they help out in the offensive zone. The same can be said for seasoned offense-oriented defensemen and their path to getting where they are today. There’s a stronger case for Mete to become a longtime quarterback on the attack than you might think. The Canadiens need a defenseman like the one I believe Mete can become, and if they want him to reach the potential he showed this past year, the coaching staff will be a key factor in terms of deciding who he plays with and how he’s deployed. Either way, for Montreal’s sake, I hope he becomes the player he teased everyone with glimpses of this season. Here’s why Mete can become an offensive trailblazer not seen on the Canadiens blueline in almost a decade.
Victor Mete is Already Elite in Transition
When we compare Mete’s ability to enter the offensive zone with other defensemen in the league, he suddenly stands out a ton. Not only is he on another level compared to his teammates in terms of neutral zone effectiveness, he’s among the most versatile transition weapons in the game. Only a handful of defenders in the game contributed more off the rush in 2019-20, per Corey Sznajder’s tracking; Mete is comparable with Sam Girard, Thomas Chabot, Erik Karlsson, and Shea Theodore, who shoulder the workload a ton for their respective teams in terms of driving play towards the o-zone.
The fact that a 21-year-old is responding this well to this amount of responsibility in transition speaks volumes. Of course, this is the golden age of young defensemen (Mete is sandwiched between Girard and Cale Makar in this chart, after all), but Mete’s ability to carry this workload for the Canadiens should still be talked about more than it is. As well, you’re about to see that Mete isn’t just great transitioning to offense.
Kudos again to Corey Sznajder for the data, and C.J. Turtoro for the graphic. Mete exits the defensive zone with possession a ton as well. He played an increasingly higher amount of time with Shea Weber before going down with injury in February, and again, he had no problem handling the workload in the neutral zone.
Why is it so important to be strong in transition? Well, exiting the defensive zone can lead to offensive chances, and entering the offensive zone can increase the likelihood of getting said chances. Doing so with possession of the puck, however, is also vital: Keeping the puck as opposed to dumping it in has proven to lead to a greater amount of offensive chances off the rush, especially high-danger ones. Mete can both exit the defensive zone and exit the offensive zone, with possession, better than almost anyone in the league. In fact, per Corey’s tracking, Roman Josi was the only defenseman in the sport who performed better in transition with possession of the puck than Mete did.
One thing that caught my eye as I was going over Mete’s neutral-zone stats is how he takes a quality-over-quantity approach when exiting the defensive zone. As you’ll notice if you look at his A3Z chart again, he’s about average when it comes to total exits but elite in terms of exits with possession. In short, that means he doesn’t like to exit the defensive zone unless he has possession of the puck. This can be extremely risky, as it theoretically increases the chances of an opponent being present to strip him of the puck, but it can also pay off big-time, because again, carrying the puck in as opposed to dumping it out obviously leads to greater offensive chances. The fact that Mete is willing to take this approach is sort of surprising. Other young transition demons, such as Makar, Girard, and Quinn Hughes, take a balanced approach between exiting without possession and exiting with it. Some other offense-oriented blueliners like John Carlson go for the opposite approach that Mete does. However, the Canadiens defenseman is the outlier.
There are many unique things about Victor Mete’s transition game, and it was very effective for the Canadiens during the season. Interestingly enough, the quality-first approach he takes when exiting the defensive zone applies to more areas of his game than one.
Victor Mete Has a Good Shot (no, that isn’t a typo)
If we re-visit his A3Z chart one more time, we can see that Mete has far more shot assists than he has shots in the offensive zone. He likes to pass once he gets to the o-zone, and he does it more than most defensemen in the league, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a good shot. However, he scored only 4 goals this past season. How can this be possible?
Mete’s shooting talent grades out at 7% above average according to my model, and 1% above average per Micah Blake McCurdy's. If you want to throw his xGF ratings into this for extra context, you’ll notice that they are quite low. Seeing that caused me to arrive at the following conclusion: Victor Mete does not shoot the puck a lot. He is an efficient shooter above all else.
As with his approach in transition, Mete is an outlier in this regard compared to other offensive defensemen. All the defensemen who get mainstream attention for putting up sky-high point totals relative to others at their position are notorious for shooting the puck a ton. Morgan Rielly is the epitome of an all-out offensive blueliner, and in his career season in 2018-19, he shot first and asked questions later. John Carlson was the same way in 2019-20. Brent Burns, at his offensive peak, also ran with a similar style. However, Mete doesn’t feel the need to shoot a lot. Part of that could be due to his common defense partner (I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded how much Weber uses his cannon of a shot), and also the Canadiens top line, which Mete played with quite a bit, has three extremely high-volume shooters. If I were Montreal’s coaching staff, I’d be curious to see if Mete would end up taking more shots if he played with a defenseman who didn’t do that for him.
Moreover, my shooting talent model incorporates both Corsi and xG into the conversation in more ways than one. If a player went on a full-blown, unrepeatable PDO bender this past season, my model would recognize that and penalize the player slightly when churning out their shooting talent figure. As such, I feel comfortable using this model as a proxy for what Mete could achieve in terms of offensive results as soon as this upcoming season. He recorded 4 goals and 11 points this past season, and I’d expect both figures to go up soon.
A technique that a lot of elite offensive players use is creating space for themselves. Mete showed occasional flashes of that this past season. Click the link below and go to 0:46 of the video to check out the replays of this goal he scored in November. Not even the Boston Bruins, notorious for being an elite defensive team, could take notice of Mete’s brilliant offensive positioning on this goal before it was too late.
Notice how he starts up high near the offside faceoff dot. He’s out of the zone, so the Bruins ignore him and focus on the developing play near their own net. He just lurks up behind the top of the circle until the rebound comes out, and he makes no mistake against Rask.
Creating that much space for yourself is vital if you want to maximize your potential to get offensive results. Mete’s infrequently used but efficient shot and his developing instinct bode well on the attack, but there are some more encouraging things to take away from his 2019-20 season. And if you’re a Canadiens fan, this will be music to your ears.
Victor Mete Plays Extremely Well with Montreal’s Top Forwards
The Montreal Canadiens’ top line has divided hockey fans everywhere. Each member (Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher) puts up point totals that would seem more characteristic of second line players, hence their lack of mainstream recognition. However, they dominate 5v5 play, and score the bulk of their team’s goals. On the flip side, their goal share during the regular season was deflated by bad goaltending (don’t worry, I thought Carey Price was stellar these playoffs, so kudos to him for that).
Essentially, there are few lines in hockey that are relied on more to score goals for a team that doesn’t have top-tier offensive depth. On top of that, there are no lines in hockey that force the other team to stay on their heels defensively. They get a lot of chances. At 5 on 5, they’re tough to contain. And Victor Mete dominates with these three playing ahead of him.
The jersey numbers on Micah’s WOWY viz for Mete are printed in rather small font, but if you look closely enough, you’ll see that Mete not the same player he is if the Canadiens’ top line isn’t on the ice with him. He controls adjusted shot share better with these three than he does anybody else on the team. Why is this encouraging? Well, this top line controls shot and quality chance share better than any other combination of players on the squad. If Mete clicks this well with players like that, then it will maximize the opportunities he gets to score some goals and apply offensive pressure himself. Forward line and defense pair matchups on the same team can be hard to coordinate at times, but Montreal’s coaches should be placing an emphasis on trying to get Mete out with their top forwards next year.
Some other noteworthy pieces of information in this WOWY: Look at how Mete’s impacts change with and without Shea Weber. The two are at their most effective in terms of controlling shot share when they are not playing together. Combined with Weber’s shoot-first style that makes him the default supply of offense from the point, I would try breaking up that pair next season. He doesn’t click a significant amount better with other defensemen on his team, but I would experiment playing him with Jeff Petry a little more next year.
What Could the Next Steps Be?
Victor Mete played 16 minutes per game this past year, at all strengths. That number has to increase. He scored 11 points in 51 games, a pace of 18 over 82. That will increase. He dealt with injury, but the Canadiens have a real player on their hands here. What wasn’t discussed in this piece is that his defensive impacts are well above average, although based on my film study, I think that’s a byproduct of his neutral zone play and the amount of time he spends in the o-zone. To me, his defensive zone coverage and fundamentals are quite poor as of now. Whether he can become something better in that department, though, is a conversation for another day.
Mete absolutely rules in transition, he’s a top-10 defenseman in the league in that regard. What’s more, he moves the puck and generates offensive chances for his team in a way we don’t see from young defenders at all. When moving up the ice, puck possession is paramount for him, and the fact that he can do so efficiently without losing control of the puck speaks volumes as to his offensive potential. He passes the puck a ton in the offensive zone, and from the 4 games I studied, he is a very fluid skater who can commandeer the pace of play in the offensive zone at a rapid pace. He’s an efficient shooter, and benefits a considerable amount from playing with Montreal’s top offensive weapons. The preliminary ingredients for him to take off offensively are unquestionably there.
The one thing I’d love to see next year is for him to shoot more. Again, whether that happens will depend on matchups and deployment, but he will almost certainly see an even bigger jump than I’m predicting in terms of offensive results if he does that. His neutral-zone comparables all rack up points at a high rate, and on a team that lacks finishing ability and powerplay effectiveness, the circumstances are not in Mete’s favour, and yet, the indicators are there. Between his unique abilities in the middle of the ice and on the attack, I have high hopes for this player.
I am very excited to see what the rest of Victor Mete’s career brings. He’s only 21, and got to the NHL way before he was supposed to. His progress to this point should make Canadiens fans very excited for his future. Mete’s current impacts may not suggest that turning into an offensive star is in the cards for him, but I believe it’s possible. It would be a waste of his skill set to try to turn him into something much different. The player who once could not score a goal to save his life is on his way to scoring a lot more, and setting up a lot more too. It should be a lot of fun to watch.