ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mathew Dumba was in the NHL for the second straight season, but similar to last season, he was left to be a spectator in the Minnesota Wild’s regular-season opener.
Coach Mike Yeo could sense the nerves Dumba, Minnesota’s 19-year-old defenseman, was playing with, even in practice. So instead of letting Dumba play in the season-opener on Thursday, Dumba was a healthy scratch and Clayton Stoner played with Keith Ballard.
Yeo wanted his young defenseman to relax just a bit more before letting him hit the ice in the NHL.
The wait didn’t do much for Dumba’s nerves, but he got his chance to make his NHL debut on Saturday night in the Wild’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
“It was awesome,” Dumba said. “It’s everything I dreamed of. I know there’s still a lot of hard work in front of me. It would have been nice to get the win tonight.”
Dumba played 10 minutes, 22 seconds on Saturday, pairing with the veteran Ballard. He finished with one shot on goal.
“I think my first couple of shifts were a bit jittery and what-not, but I think I settled in better,” Dumba said. “As (Ballard) talked to me more, the game seemed to be easier and I was just making better plays.”
Jonas Brodin debuted last season for Minnesota as a 19-year-old and was one of the top rookies in the league. Dumba is not guaranteed to stick on the Wild’s roster all season. Minnesota can still send him back to his junior team if he hasn’t played more than nine games to not start the clock on his entry-level contract.
But Dumba did display some of the tools that have the Wild excited about Dumba’s potential and the reasons they selected him with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
“Thought he had some really good moments,” Yeo said. “I thought that there was a couple hiccups out there, but he gave you glimpses of what he can do. He’s going to be a pretty electric player, that’s for sure. He’s going to be a guy who’s fun to watch and helps you create offense, helps you get to your game.
“It wasn’t the easiest of games for a young player to get into, too, the way we started the game. That’s kind of a tough situation. But I thought for the most part, this was a good debut for him.”
Dumba is the ninth-youngest player to play a game this season and the second-youngest defensemen to make his NHL debut with Minnesota. Only Nick Schultz in 2001 was younger than Dumba, by one month and nine days.
“Solid; didn’t look (nervous),” Ballard said. “First shift of the game, he’s patient with the puck in the neutral zone and makes a nice play. He just continually, I would assume, just continually felt better. He moved the puck well. He used his abilities. He skated well. He’s easy to play with. I think he was good.”
Last season, as an 18-year-old, Dumba was sent back to his junior team in Red Deer. He was with Minnesota out of training camp, but was scratched for every game. Even without playing in a game, Dumba said the experience was invaluable and he came into training camp this year focused on sticking around this time.
He had to wait two more days to fulfill his dream of, technically, playing in the NHL, but the anticipation wasn’t too bad, Dumba said.
“I’ve been playing hockey since I was little,” Dumba said. “The main thing I went to, I just want to have fun tonight and just be myself out there. I felt as I just took some breaths on the bench, I found that.”
And a more relaxed Dumba could be ready to prove he deserves to stick around this time.
Coyle likely out Tuesday: Center Charlie Coyle missed part of the second and all of the third period on Saturday with a lower-body injury.
Coyle went hard into the net on a scoring chance, but was taken down and slid into the post. Yeo said Coyle’s injury likely isn’t serious, but doubts he will be able to play when Minnesota plays at Nashville on Tuesday.
“I don’t think it’s gravely serious,” Yeo said. “But I also think it would be a stretch to see him in the lineup next game.”
Coyle, in his second season, won the second-line center job out of training camp.