In a cool scene, teammates thrust Matt Dumba to the center of the circle Saturday morning to lead the Wild’s stretch after practice.
“They’re going to be happy in Red Deer tonight,” teammates told Dumba, he said.
That’s because Dumba made his long-anticipated NHL debut later that night in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks. The 2012 first-round pick stayed a week into last season, but he played no games before returning to Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.
This time, two months and 10 days after his 19th birthday, Dumba skated alongside veteran Keith Ballard in a bona fide regular-season NHL contest. He logged 10:22, wasn’t on for a goal and had a shot with his parents, Treena and Charlie, in the crowd.
“I’m just thankful that my opportunity has come along,” Dumba said. “It was everything I dream of, but I know I have a lot of work ahead of me.”
Dumba is a wild stallion. He’s got a big shot, loves to hit and often skates … everywhere. Ballard said it’s important to read off each other and just make sure that if one defenseman decides to go, “it’s not both of us.”
“Matt’s got a lot of skill,” Ballard said before the game. “An important part of his career as he goes forward is learning when to use that and learning when to just get it out of trouble, make the smart play, play kind of a boring game.
“It’s just a matter of finding the times to use it. For me as his partner, it’s being in the right spot and talking so no matter what he’s doing or where he is, he knows that I’m going to be in my position as a safety valve.”
It feels like just yesterday when Ballard, 30, was the young pup. His mentor in Phoenix early in his career was defenseman Derek Morris.
“I don’t think I had quite the skill Matt has, but my first couple years, I was also just up and down the ice and had no thought of, ‘This could lead to an odd-man rush, or this is a bad idea or we’re up one goal late in the game, don’t do this,’ ” he said. “It took me a bit of time to play my position more.”
Still, while the Wild knows Dumba may make mistakes early, it also wants him to play his game. He offers a dimension the Wild lacks.
“He had some really good moments,” coach Mike Yeo said. “He gave you glimpses of what he can do. He’s going to be a pretty electric player. He’s going to be a guy that creates offense.”
Veteran Clayton Stoner had a strong opener Thursday but was scratched for Dumba.
Yeo said his message to Stoner is: “We’ve got a lot of quality players. It’s early in the season. Things have a way of sorting themselves out. You just got to hang in there.”
Koivus together again
Wild captain Mikko Koivu is beginning his ninth season in the NHL, and it was only his 17th meeting against his older brother, Saku, the Anaheim Ducks center who used to captain Montreal.
So during the season, they don’t see each other much. But by good fortune, the Ducks were the Wild’s second game, meaning it didn’t take long for Saku to meet his new niece, Sofie, who was born Sept. 24.