RALEIGH, N.C. – Matt Dumba had an inkling he would return to the Wild’s lineup Saturday night when he saw Clayton Stoner didn’t participate in the morning skate.
But coach Mike Yeo made it official when he skated up to the rookie defenseman and asked if he was ready to go.
The 19-year-old breathed a major sigh of relief when he skated in his benchmark 10th game against the Hurricanes. That means the first year of his three-year contract kicks in, further solidifying his spot on the Wild.
Dumba either has to stay with the Wild or return to Red Deer in the Western Hockey League. The Wild can still return him, but that’s unlikely for awhile now — if at all.
“To get back in the lineup is huge. Nobody likes to sit out,” said Dumba, who has been scratched eight times, including the previous four. “For it to be my 10th game in the position I’m in is nice, but I have to keep building from there and hopefully I get the 20th game and 30th game and so on.”
Playing Saturday allows Dumba to forget about the nine-game threshold. He admitted after a rough game against Chicago on Oct. 28 that he was rattled by the landmark. Dumba said Yeo reminded him of the things he had to do to be successful against Carolina, like moving the puck quickly and “keeping my head on a swivel.”
Dumba was paired with fellow right-shot defenseman Nate Prosser, who played on the left side. Yeo planned for left-shot defenseman Marco Scandella to bite off more ice time along with chief minute-munching left defenseman Ryan Suter.
Yeo said Stoner, who sustained a leg injury Thursday at Washington, could have played, but with three off-days before the Wild next plays Wednesday against Toronto, the Wild opted not to risk it. Veteran Keith Ballard missed his second game because of an upper-body injury.
Backstrom’s time near
With the Hurricanes having scored eight goals in the previous seven games, Saturday arguably was as good an opportunity as any to get Niklas Backstrom back in the cage for at least one game.
The Wild considered it, but in the end, Yeo started red-hot Josh Harding. But Backstrom likely will need to play one of the back-to-back games at Montreal and Ottawa on Nov. 19-20, so Yeo indicated Backstrom will start at least one game on the upcoming three-game homestand.
“You can expect to see [Backstrom] in there soon,” Yeo said.
Rupp nearly ready
After two weeks of grueling practices in the next step toward his return from offseason knee surgery, veteran Mike Rupp says he’s ready for game action.
But before returning to the Wild’s lineup, the physical left wing has agreed that his first few games should come in the American Hockey League on a conditioning stint. The Iowa Wild has three home games this week, so Rupp’s return is likely imminent.
Still, if the Wild’s forwards are healthy when Rupp comes off injured reserve, he might become the 13th forward (the extra) because Yeo likes the look of his four lines.
“We value him and what he can bring, but we’ve got 12 guys, so it is tough,” Yeo said.
Several Wild players and coaches opted to play basketball on North Carolina State’s court Friday instead of taking the ice at the Hurricanes’ practice facility.
In a game of “knockout,” Scandella eliminated Yeo in the finals. “I beat him … easily,” Scandella said. “Youth always wins.”
Yeo said, “I was a close second to a guy who can dunk. Either way, I still beat all the other players. They should be embarrassed.”
Scandella, who played hoops as a kid, said Harding is “by far the best” Wild player at basketball.