One of general manager Marc Bergevin’s mantras is that you can never have too many defencemen. That philosophy has been obvious through the Canadiens’ draft choices over the last few years. In 2016, four of six picks were defencemen. In 2017, it was four of seven. Montreal’s defence hasn’t been good this season so it’s understandable that fans are hoping their defence prospects mature fast.
Out of all of Montreal’s defence prospects, Victor Mete has garnered most of the headlines. The 100th overall pick in 2016, Mete has never been considered the top defence prospect in the organization. Especially since the Habs picked Mikhail Sergachev ninth overall that same year and Noah Juulsen was their 2015 first rounder. No doubt he was a talented prospect but his size (5’9″ and 184 pounds) was a drawback despite the game being skewed towards skill.
At the beginning of training camp, he seemed like a lock to go back to the London Knights. Since then, he made the team and started the year next to Shea Weber, who has arguably played his best hockey this season next to the rookie. Mete’s minutes have since been scaled back and he has been playing in a more sheltered role. He makes the understandable rookie mistakes and struggles against some bigger players.
The Habs will have to decide if they plan on sending him to play at the World Juniors, especially since he has been a valuable addition to the defence corps. His skating and smarts compensate for his smaller stature. With the way he has played this year (and with the potential for more), Mete looks like a very important piece moving forward.
Starting at 3:10 in the video below, assistant general manager Trevor Timmins describes what they saw in Mete before drafting him in 2016.
Waiting for More
KHL free agent signing Jakub Jerabek has adjusted nicely to the North American game in the AHL. He finally got into his first NHL game against the Nashville Predators, where he looked solid. No longer a prospect at age 26 with several years of experience playing professional hockey in Europe, Jerabek isn’t expected to be a saviour. If he can be solid at both ends of the rink, he will be an upgrade on a few of the current Habs.
Jakub Jerabek woke up at 4:30 this morning, got on a plane in Winnipeg at 6:30, arrived in Nashville today around 1 pm and played 18:16 in his NHL debut. What a day.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) November 23, 2017
With Sergachev now with the Tampa Bay Lightning after the Jonathan Drouin deal, Juulsen holds the title as Montreal’s top defence prospect not playing in the NHL. A broken foot in training camp prevented him from suiting up yet this season. Once he returns, he will likely spend some time in the minors, but Bergevin believes Juulsen will be competing for a spot in Montreal very soon. He is a player who doesn’t dazzle with offensive ability but he can play a dependable game.
Brett Lernout is one of the older defence prospects, a third rounder in 2014. He has come along slowly in the AHL but he shows promise. He has size and skates well with a good first pass and a nasty streak. Lernout still remains a bit of project but has good tools to work with.
In the Wings
In 2017, Montreal looked to the WHL for all of their defence picks. Second-rounder Josh Brook is out with a wrist injury. Scott Walford and Cale Fleury are opposites in terms of style. Walford is more of the stay at home type while Fleury is an offensive-minded player. Jarrett Tyszka was their fifth round pick and is considered to have a lot of good tools but is still raw.
With the way Montreal has been playing this season, the thought of drafting top Swedish defence prospect Rasmus Dahlin is enticing. He is the complete package with size, skill, speed and smarts. The Habs lack an elite level defence prospect in their pipeline as the players mentioned above project to just be really good at best.
Projecting the ‘D’
If a few of these defence prospects pan out, it will help Montreal immensely. While Weber is still really good, he isn’t getting any younger and with the league focused on speed, you need players who can keep up. Jeff Petry has the skill and is a good skater but he is inconsistent. Considering how much Bergevin has tinkered with the defence, it’s hard to say if any of these young prospects will see the ice in Montreal or be in uniform for another team.