Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Matt Dumba returns to Wild's lineup tonight against Winnipeg Jets

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: November 17, 2013 - 12:57 PM

Wild and Winnipeg Jets look to continue their hot streaks tonight when they clash at the X in a Central Division matchup.

Josh Harding vs. Ondrej Pavelec.

Rookie defenseman Matt Dumba, scratched in six of the past seven games, gets back in the lineup tonight for Nate Prosser.

Prosser has played well, but the Wild needs to give a 19-year-old a chance to play or it’ll need to eventually make the decision if it needs to return him to Red Deer despite already hitting that 10-game mark to trigger the first of his three-year deal.

It’s a fine line right now because the Wild can’t hurt Dumba’s development by having him collect dust, but as I wrote in today’s article here, in a conference where every point is absolutely crucial, you can’t also risk continually throwing out an erratic defenseman.

And Dumba has had some hairy moments his last two games against Chicago and Carolina. But, how do you get Dumba out of that if he’s not continually in the lineup?

Tough call.

Tonight’s game against Winnipeg makes sense because he played well against Winnipeg in the preseason (scored a goal in Winnipeg and was great alongside Clayton Stoner) and in his second NHL game Oct. 10 (three shots, even rating in almost 12 minutes).

“He’s played well against these guys, so just want to see him continue to evolve and continue to grow,” coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s in here for a reason. I want to see his strengths come out in the game. Physical down low and strong in D-zone coverage but executing and getting up ice when there’s an opportunity, and looking for opportunities to get pucks through to the net.”

Regarding about the fine line between needing to play him but not being able to afford mistakes, Yeo continued, “Those guys are always under the microscope a little more. If some of your other defensemen are in the lineup night in and night out and they make a mistake, then you kind of brush it aside. We can’t expect a perfect game from him. There’s going to be some mistakes with the puck and without the puck. That’s the same for every player, but we just have to make sure we keep working to limit those and continue to grow his game. It’s just real important that we show the confidence in him to give him the chance to go out and do the things that he can do.”

Same lines as the past several games for Minnesota.

Couple other things from the skate:

-- Johan Gustafsson will again back up Harding tonight. Wild isn’t saying, but I’d guess tomorrow that the team flips Darcy Kuemper and Gustafsson and brings Kuemper to Montreal and Ottawa with Kuemper likely to start in Ottawa on Wednesday. He has been very up and down in Iowa but played real well in a 1-0 loss last night.

This is all barring a trade for a goalie. Again, as I wrote the other day, if Niklas Backstrom is going to be out long with his concussion, GM Chuck Fletcher is contemplating acquiring a backup goalie or signing one. However, even if say he signed a Jose Theodore, Theodore would need time in the minors to get ready to play in the NHL. The Wild is also looking at some goalies playing in Europe, but they would have to first clear waivers before being allowed to be added to the roster.

So in the meantime, unless there’s an imminent trade coming, Kuemper, I’m guessing, starts in Ottawa. No update on Backstrom, but he was at the rink this morning.

Again, Fletcher has said he’s not going to overreact and needs to first figure out what Backstrom’s timetable is medically. Problem is with concussions you never know and Chicago and the Islanders lost goalies last night, so with so few goalies out there, one wonders if Fletcher may have to act quickly so he’s not left standing at the alter.

Also, I’m getting emails about guys like Ryan Miller and Viktor Fasth, etc. The Wild has $1.8 million in camp space and Harding has taken the reins as the No. 1. The move – if there ever is a move -- would likely be to get a stopgap until Backstrom is healthy -- either a free-agent pickup or a trade for a Scott Clemmensen-type goalie.

-- Mike Rupp has played three games for Iowa and it appears as if his conditioning stint will be extended for the week. The Iowa Wild plays three in three next weekend, so he’d likely get into a couple. Conditioning stints can last 14 days continuous. Once he is recalled, the Wild does not have to send anybody down to make room on the roster. If the Wild is healthy, my guess is Rupp becomes the 13th forward for the time being and somebody Yeo maybe spots in from time to time against physical teams.

-- The other night against Florida, Yeo used his timeout early in the second when he sensed momentum turning and Jonas Brodin iced the puck. You only get one timeout a game in the NHL, so when Florida rallied with two goals 5 ½ minutes apart early in the third, Yeo said to the team, “I don’t have a timeout. Can’t use it. We better figure this out right now and they did.”

Just pointing it out because it’s a kinda interesting look at the bench and something we don’t normally get to see/hear about.

-- I talked to Yeo about Brodin, who has been struggling with the puck lately. He had three goals and six points in his first nine games before breaking his cheekbone against Nashville.

In seven games since his return, Brodin has NO points and ONE shot. He’s iced a puck a ton and is turning pucks over. I think it’s the bubble, but Yeo says he has worn it long enough by now to get used to it.

Regardless of the reason, Yeo said the Wild is working with Brodin to find his game again.

“Parts of his game are really strong,” Yeo said. “Every night you’re still going to see what a great player he is. Right now, there’s a little more inconsistency with his play with the puck. And the confidence isn’t quite there yet. You can tell. He doesn’t have the same confidence getting up ice, …” skating with the puck, getting involved with the Wild’s offensive game and “we haven’t seen him shoot as many pucks.”

Yeo said it’s just building his game back to the level he was before the injury.

-- Keith Ballard’s upper body injury is clearly broken ribs. Hopefully he won’t be out too much longer, but he hasn’t begun skating.

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