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Recap: Mete's progression coming along 'mint'-ily

Sophomore defenseman took important strides in his second NHL campaign - and he came close to scoring his first goal, too

by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

MONTREAL - Victor Mete has long proven that his jump from Junior to the NHL was not premature. Yes, even if he's still looking for his first goal in the big leagues after 120 games.

It's not that he hasn't come close, either.

Mete is a high-flying defenseman who can skate like the wind and has shown a knack for getting involved in the rush and for sneaking around the opposition to accept a pass.

Video: ARI@MTL: Pickard stretches out pad to make the save

In the fourth game of this season - his second campaign in the NHL - Mete did just that, escaping supervision by the Penguins to wire a shot past Pittsburgh goalie Casey DeSmith for what he thought was his first tally in the League. The goal, however, was overturned because of goaltender interference.

Later in the season, Mete fired a shot from the point against the Los Angeles Kings that found its way into the net, but that one was given to Brendan Gallagher thanks to the latter's talent for deflecting pucks. (Mete couldn't have been too upset with the end result, either, as the goal was Gallagher's 30th of 2018-19 and allowed him to crack the 30-goal plateau for the second time in his career.)

Video: MTL@LAK: Gallagher records 30th goal on deflection

In short, look at the evidence and it's clear the goal will come.

Now that that's out of the way, how did the season go as a whole for the young defenseman? We'll have to use his own words for the answer: mintily. His season went mintily.

Without his regular partner from last season to start the year, Shea Weber, Mete alternated playing with Jeff Petry and Xavier Ouellet before the captain's return, logging an average of 15:10 per game and recording four assists and a plus-5 differential.

But the 19-year-old's reunion with the grizzled veteran, who had been his defense partner and mentor throughout his rookie season, would have to wait. Just after Weber played his first game of the season, Mete was sent down to the AHL's Laval Rocket to tune up his game - and he'd score his first goal as a pro in the process.

Tweet from @RocketLaval: Premier but pour Victor Mete, 4 passes pour Michael McCarron et 3282 toutous: Voici vos faits sallaint!First goal for @vmete98 , 4 assits for @MacAttackUSA93 and 3282 teddy bears: take a look at today's game highlights! pic.twitter.com/0hW5eB5GFJ

Mete's numbers following that seven-game stint with Joel Bouchard's squad show that it was a worthwhile endeavor: in the 48 games he played after rejoining the big club, Mete's ice time increased to an average of 19:01 per game, his differential shot up to plus-12, and he added nine more assists. Head coach Claude Julien also started deploying him on the penalty kill, with Mete seeing an average of 1:16 of shorthanded action per game following his return (compared to the handful of seconds he had averaged beforehand).

For Mete, getting the chance to take on bigger responsibilities and tighten things up was a big confidence-booster.

"I learned a lot in the three weeks I was there. I really worked on a lot in practice - closing on guys, stick on puck," Mete recounted to reporters in December before playing his first game back with the Canadiens. "I thought I started building on it in the last couple games before I got sent down there. And then going there, playing big minutes, playing in key positions, power play… it puts me something where I haven't played in awhile. I'm excited and I think it'll help me."

Mete also benefited from his budding friendship with rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The pair gained notoriety when they shared a tour of their "mint" hotel room on the road earlier in the season.

Video: Kotkaniemi and Mete share a tour of their hotel room

That said, if Mete thought he might get some help with his scoring touch from his new best bud this offseason, he might want to think again.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: KK, is @vmete98 coming with you to Finland this summer? pic.twitter.com/Eb0RofWASB

All joking aside, Mete took some important strides this season after cracking the Habs' lineup as a 19-year-old in 2017-18. And after getting to witness what it's like to compete for a playoff spot and all the atmosphere that comes with it in Montreal, the Woodbridge, ON native is definitely ready to reach new heights in his third go-round in the NHL.

"It was pretty good. Everyone was having fun. So it was kind of easy to just go with the flow and playing a lot would have really benefited me now. I know what to expect next year and I'll hopefully be put in the same position," he concluded. "It was a lot of fun and I'm excited for next season."

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