The Montreal Canadiens signed Ben Chiarot to a three year contract. Chiarot is not likely to be a top pairing defenseman and neither is Brett Kulak. That means Victor Mete has to step up next season.
The Montreal Canadiens dipped into the free agency market yesterday and signed Ben Chiarot. They gave the former Winnipeg Jets defenseman a three year contract with an annual cap hit of $3.5 million per season.
This fills a need for the Canadiens as they certainly had a hole to plug on the left side of their defense. With Jordie Benn heading to the Vancouver Canucks as a free agent, the Habs were left with just Victor Mete and Brett Kulak as left shooting blue liners.
They do also have Xavier Ouellet and Mike Reilly on the roster who have NHL experience. However, both of them proved last season they can’t be expected to play in the top six on a nightly basis.
So the hunt was on for a left defender. Ideally, Marc Bergevin would have found a way to add a top pairing defenseman that can play every night with “man mountain” Shea Weber. Rumours swirled they may be interested in Jake Gardiner. Nick Leddy and Shayne Gostisbehere’s names floated around as potentially available on the trade market.
Hearing the aforementioned names may leave some fans a little underwhelmed with Chiarot. He played a lot with Dustin Byfuglien last season at five on five but was the Jets fifth most used defender on the penalty kill and never played with the man advantage.
He was a third pairing, maybe sometimes second pairing guy, and would be best suited to keep that role with the Habs next season. He isn’t a bad skater, but his best assets are his ability to shutdown opponents with his physical play and knack for blocking shots.
Suffice it to say, Chiarot will not be playing top pairing minutes next season for Montreal. That’s not to say he’s bad or can’t fill a role at all. He just isn’t the top pairing guy that would have been found in a perfect world.
That leaves the spot next to Weber still vacant. Kulak played well with Jeff Petry last season, but it’s unlikely he will become a top pairing defenseman on a contending NHL team.
By process of elimination, the top pairing spot on the left side will go to Mete. The 21 year old had an up-and-down second season with the Canadiens, but will need to become a fixture next to Weber if this team is going to make any noise next season.
Mete surprised a lot of people when he made the Canadiens out of training camp in 2017. He was just 19 years old and had been drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 NHL Draft. He was not expected to make the Canadiens at all that season but he played well as a teenaged rookie.
Last season, Mete started the year with the Habs, but wasn’t incredibly effective out of the gate. His ice time was over 20 minutes in the season opener but dropped quickly throughout October and November before he was ultimately sent to the Laval Rocket for a short stint in December.
Mete only played seven games in the AHL, but played well enough to earn a recall to the Habs just before Christmas. This time, his ice time started at 12:29 but quickly increased until he was playing over 20:00 just five games later.
Mete’s speed and ability to carry the puck up ice is a talent that is scarce among Canadiens defensemen. Jeff Petry certainly has the ability to carry the puck up ice, but it’s not the biggest strength of Weber’s, Kulak’s, Chiarot’s or Noah Juulsen’s who is expected to be the defenseman on the right side of the third pairing.
This talent was on display for much of the second half of the season, as Mete’s minutes were routinely between 18 and 20 minutes per night. For a guy who is not counted on to kill penalties, that’s an impressive workload.
It is going to be imperative for Mete to start the 2019-20 season much better than he did last season. For a player with as much skill and speed as he has, you would expect far better offensive numbers. In 120 career games he has zero goals and 20 points. He doesn’t need to be a point-per-game player, but he needs to have a breakout year offensively for the Canadiens to be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
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All the tools are there. The speed, the skill, the ability to carry the puck up ice, and the knowledge to know when to jump into the play. With a bit more luck and a little more consistency, Mete can be an excellent top pairing defenseman. With Chiarot being the addition on left defense and not Gardiner or Gostisbehere, the opportunity is Mete’s to lose.