TAMPA, Fla. – If Matt Dumba is going to stick around the Wild this season, the rookie defenseman — and Wild fans — will have to understand there might be times when he is pulled from the lineup to take a step back, reflect and learn.
That’s what happened Tuesday in Toronto.
He had a rough game the night before in Buffalo, so instead of playing him in the bright lights of the center of the hockey universe, the Wild decided it would be best for Dumba to watch video, spend time on the ice with the assistant coaches and watch the Wild play the Maple Leafs from atop the arena.
“Like every young player, there are ups and downs in their play and that comes with playing in the best league in the world,” General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I would say, for the most part, he’s played well. [Assistant coach] Rick [Wilson] is a really good coach for these young defensemen and not just Matt, but all of them. Rick’s got a really good feel for how to use Matt and build him up and help him get his confidence but yet also protect him in terms of how we best utilize him.”
Dumba is 19, so Fletcher said he is unsure “he’s an every-night player right now,” and that’s completely up to Wilson and coach Mike Yeo to make those decisions.
Yeo hasn’t confirmed if Dumba will be back in the Wild’s lineup Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dumba has been scratched three times.
“It’s something you’ve got to go through. It’s a process,” Dumba said. “I think every player has done it at one point or another in their career. I just have to keep a positive mind, work hard and do whatever’s asked from me.”
Because of Dumba’s age, he cannot play for the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League. He either had to stay with the Wild or return to his junior team, Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.
Wild best place now
“We’ve made the determination that for the early part of the season, it makes more sense to have him here,” Fletcher said. “Whether he’s playing or even just practicing and working with Rick Wilson every day and being around NHL players, we feel that will be better for his development than playing a full season in the WHL against younger kids.
“Now at some point in time, his ice time has to be at a high enough level to justify being here for a whole season, but certainly for the early part of this season, we think it makes sense for our team and for him to be here. We want to win this year, so he’s got to help us on the ice and in turn we have to make sure it’s helping his development.”
Dumba, drafted seventh overall in the 2012 draft, has played four games. He scored his first career goal in Saturday’s win over Dallas.
The Wild can return Dumba to Red Deer at any point this season, but if he plays in 10 games, the first of his three-year contract is burned. If he plays in 41, that would count as a year toward his eventual unrestricted free agency (seven years).
After Dumba plays in his ninth game, Fletcher will meet with assistant GM Brent Flahr and the coaching staff to determine what’s best for Dumba — staying or returning to Red Deer. However, Fletcher said, “Nine games for me has never been a major issue. Obviously it triggers a year of the contract, but if he’s helping us, nine games is not the end all be all.”
Looking back, Fletcher also said he wasn’t afraid to go past the nine-game threshold with forward Brett Bulmer, a 2010 second-round pick, two seasons ago. After Bulmer played in his ninth game though, he was returned to Kelowna.
With Dumba, Fletcher said, “There might be a reason to go beyond that from a developmental standpoint or maybe he’s helping our team and we make that decision we’ll burn the year of his contract to get the benefits of having him here. We don’t know what our injury situation will look like, how well he’s playing. I’m not afraid to go by [nine games] at all.
“The strengths of his game are things we need and probably every team needs. He shoots the puck, he skates well, he passes the puck well and he’s a very good competitor.”