ST. PAUL, Minn. — First-round pick Mathew Dumba had just finished his first practice in an NHL sweater at the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday and sat down ready to face questions from several Twin Cities television outlets.
Teammate Marco Scandella lingered nearby ready to give the 17-year-old his proper initiation to the Minnesota Wild. As the cameras were getting ready to roll, Scandella delivered a shaving cream pie to Dumba’s face.
Welcome to Minnesota.
The fact Scandella went to the old gag says much about Dumba. It was the only shaving cream pie given to a player in a locker room full of teenagers and early 20-somethings, all prospects in town for the Wild’s development camp. Dumba, who doesn’t turn 18 until July 25, is already attracting attention as Minnesota’s first-round pick, No. 7 overall, in the 2012 draft.
Surrounded by the likes of fellow prospects Mikael Granlund, Brett Bulmer, Jason Zucker, Zack Phillips in his own locker room Tuesday, Dumba is already among the most interesting players in a group considered among the best in the NHL.
“It’s really exciting with the guys like Brett Bulmer and Granlund and Phillips, and Marco sitting beside me,” Dumba said. “It’s pretty cool seeing the caliber of talent that’s in this dressing room and that I will be up against in the future.”
And then there’s connection with Scandella. The two were a defensive pairing in practice and sat next to each other in the locker room — the youngest player joined at the hip with the most experienced one.
“I get the first glimpse at Matt Dumba,” said Scandella, who played 63 games with the Wild last season. “It’s pretty cool to be paired up with him right now in camp.”
Scandella, in his fifth year at the annual summer event, calls this the most talent he’s seen at the camp, and Dumba adds to the impressive list. Drafted less than two weeks ago, Dumba has a constant smile and is very much the wide-eyed rookie in the camp. But the 6-foot-3, 183-pounder is still focused on making the NHL this season.
For a player as young as Dumba, the typical process would be returning to juniors. But Dumba isn’t letting the typical path sway his dream. He spoke on draft night about coming to the NHL right away and hasn’t backed off the goal. His coaching staff apparently hasn’t changed his opinion.
“Yeah, the plan is to come into camp and be ready,” Dumba said. “If I’m ready, I’m ready. But if not, they’re not going to push anything. They’ve told me that they’re not afraid to take a young guy, but I have to be ready and I have to be prepared for everything that comes along with being a rookie defenseman in the NHL. I’ll prepare for that. Nothing’s going to be forced or rushed.”
In one instance during Tuesday’s practice, Dumba joined the offensive rush, picked up a loose puck and wristed it past the goaltender, earning recognition from a few teammates who shouted his name. Adding to the offense isn’t foreign to Dumba, who had 20 goals and 37 assists last season for Red Deer in the Western Hockey League.
Dumba likes to play a physical game and has a big-time shot from the blue line, two assets that drew the Wild to one of the top-ranked defenseman in a draft weighted heavily toward defensive players. Ranked as the 11th-best North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, he was the fifth defenseman taken in the top seven picks of the draft.
“Matt is an exciting young right shot d-man with an excellent combination of skill, mobility, and physicality,” Minnesota assistant general manager Brent Flahr said after drafting Dumba. “He’s been a leader and point producer everywhere he’s been.”
Dumba is trying to show the coaches he is also responsible on the defensive end and said the biggest thing he needs to prove right now is that he’s a “coachable player” and a “quick learner.”
Learning from Scandella, a second-round pick by the Wild in 2008 before spending three seasons playing juniors, could help Dumba avoid the same extended development process. Dumba knows this is his time to learn and is asking plenty of questions along the way.
“It’s just a learning curve for me, like anything,” Dumba said. “It’s my first time being at an NHL camp. I’m trying to take as much in as I can and I’m always talking to coaches, some of the veteran guys. Kind of in shock standing around guys and asking a bunch of questions. I might be a little annoying at times, but these guys have played 63-plus games in the NHL and are guys I can learn from.”
And maybe one day Dumba will be the one passing out shaving cream pies.