ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mathew Dumba has made his intentions well-known, his goal is to be playing in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild next season.
The team has a big say in whether Dumba fulfills his dream, but it’s not closing out the possibility for the soon-to-be 19-year old to make his NHL debut in September.
Jonas Brodin, another former first-round draft choice, broke through as a 19-year-old last season and was one of the top rookies in the league while being the youngest defensemen in the NHL. Dumba, who was Minnesota’s first-round draft choice in 2012 at No. 7 overall, will get his chance to make the same entrance.
“What we’re telling him, our message, is going to be just relax, have fun and whatever happens, happens,” Wild assistant Brent Flahr said Thursday. “‘Come ready to play,’ and he’s coming here with the intention to make the team in September, which is great. But we’re not putting any added pressure. He’s going to get a good look. He’s likely going to get into some games, exhibition games and we’ll see how he fits from there.”
Dumba, who turns 19 on July 25, has spent three seasons in junior hockey with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey league. In 62 games last season, Dumba scored 16 goals, had 26 assists and 80 penalty minutes.
Dumba got the chance to spend the abbreviated training camp with Minnesota last season after the NHL lockout ended and stayed about a week of regular-season games, though he didn’t play to keep his eligibility and entry-level NHL contract from changing. But Dumba learned from the experience.
“At the start of the year I noticed how consistent guys are day in and day out,” Dumba said this week. “How they come to the rink every day and they work hard. They’re consistent, just making passes on the tape and being sharp in practice and it really translates to the games. So, I really incorporated that in my practicing, in my workouts and my game. I hope that translates come September.”
Dumba worked on his game with another year in Red Deer. The defensive aspect of his game might ultimately be the test of whether he’s ready to play in the NHL next season, but Dumba’s talents fit with what Minnesota is looking for on its blue line.
The Wild have liked what they’ve seen from Dumba this week during the development camp and the maturation in his game.
“He’s right at the top if not the top of every fitness category,” Flahr said. “He’s a pro already the way he thinks, the way he prepares himself … Obviously some of his abilities, his skating, ability to shoot the puck and bring offense from the back end is certainly attractive. At the same time, we’re not going to rush him, especially at the defensive position.”
But if Dumba proves himself ready for the NHL at 19, Minnesota will find room in its defense, which has seen Tom Gilbert and Justin Falk leave this offseason and Keith Ballard come in as a free-agent addition.
“Yeah, we’ll find room,” Flahr said when asked if the team will find a spot for Dumba if he’s ready. “He’s going to be a big part of our future, whether it’s this year or the year after. We’re not going to put any added pressure on him though. However the pieces the fall, they’ll fall, but he’s certainly going to get a good look.”
Dumba hasn’t been made any promises and is working to make the Wild’s decision in September as tough possible.
“It’s in the middle of the summer right now, I’ve got a lot of hard work between now and then,” Dumba said. “I know that and so do they. I think there’s that internal belief that they know I’m going to push myself, and so do I. I have that confidence in myself that each day I go to the gym or I step on the ice, I’m doing that to get better and it’s all working toward my goal of being in the National Hockey League this year.”