Victor Mete can be such a divisive player in Montreal.
On one hand, he can be a marvelously dynamic defenseman that can do wonderful things at each end of the ice. But others are frustrated that his small 5-foot-9 frame allows him to get pushed around more than they'd hope for and his lack of offensive upside means he needs to be dynamite in his own zone each night - and that's just not always the case.
But Mete isn't your average depth defenseman. Mete made the Canadiens as 19-year-old in 2017-18, a year after going in the fourth round of the NHL draft. He was such a surprise in camp that he got to line up beside captain and NHL all-star Shea Weber right out of the gate, leading fans and scouts alike to believe the Habs had a true gem on their hands.
But it's been a bit ugly since then.
Mete was sent to represent Canada at the World Junior Championship, winning gold. He got another shot with the Canadiens afterward but an injury took him out of action in March and saw finishing with 49 games played. He then spent most of the season with the Habs in 2018-19 with a seven-game stint in the AHL with Laval. He finally scored his first NHL goal in his third season last year but a fractured foot ended his regular season early before stepping in for some playoff action.
Now 22, Mete finds himself on the outside looking in - and the outlook looks a little too bleak for Mete's liking. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin denied reports in late January that Mete requested a trade out of Montreal, but you can't help but look deeper into it given Mete hadn't even played a game prior to the report. Mete has skated in just two of the Habs' 13 games this year - his time in Montreal is quickly coming to a close.
He's not damaged goods by any means. Yeah, it's clear that Claude Julien doesn't love Mete's play, but the young defenseman still holds some value. Using data from Topdownhockey's three-year wins-above-replacement chart, Mete is 98th in WAR among defensemen - just edging out the likes of Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, among others. If each team dresses six defensemen, we're talking about 186 defenders on any given night. WAR is an indicator of a player's value to his team's success, and a positive rating, in Mete's case, suggests the team has a better chance of winning with him in the lineup. Granted, he's not high on the list, but he's still an NHL-caliber defenseman.
Mete has never been a goal-scorer, but over the past three years, Mete leads all Habs defensemen with at least 25 games played with a goals-for percentage of 56.38 percent, per Natural Stat Trick. He was No. 1 last season with a 55.93 percent rating, and while a lot of that is due to favorable matchups, he's at least made do with his mid-level 5-on-5 ice time.
By bringing in Joel Edmundson this season on a four-year deal), it was clear that the Habs were looking to make up the lost physicality when having Mete in the lineup with someone who can throw some big hits from time to time. Alexander Romanov also helped shift things down, leaving Mete as the odd-man-out. The Canadiens have a solid defensive core - perhaps one of the best in the NHL this season - so that leaves limited opportunities for Mete.
The team that acquires Mete is getting a young defender that can make an immediate impact on a bottom pairing and potentially fight his way up to the No. 4 spot. You're not getting a heavy minute-muncher capable of being much of a threat on the scoresheet, but he'll hold his own against quality competition. Looking at data from HockeyViz, Mete has a tendency to shoot the puck under pressure, but it hasn't been working out. It's like the second a winger gets aggressive near the blueline, Mete panics and tries to just get something moving instead of going for the right play. That's not ideal, so getting someone to work on his patience and decision-making could go a long way in Mete's further development.
Mete shouldn't cost a lot in a trade, but it's a total waste having him sit games out for a player this young. As a seventh defenseman, Mete is great to have in the Habs' system. But unless they actually dress seven defensemen, that's a moot point. A fresh start with new opportunities could unlock Mete's potential, so I recommend keeping an eye on how Montreal handles his situation over the next few weeks.