Barring what General Manager Chuck Fletcher called a “crazy amount of injuries” in the next week, the Wild will loan rookie defenseman Matt Dumba to Team Canada to compete in the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 world junior championships in Malmo, Sweden.
Dumba, 19, would leave the Wild early next week in order to attend Canada’s evaluation camp, which is set to start in Toronto on Dec. 12 before moving onto Copenhagen, Denmark. Not only is Dumba a shoo-in to make the team after being cut the past two years, he is expected to be Canada’s “go-to defenseman,” hockey analyst Pierre McGuire said Monday.
“He’s more mature than he was the last two years and on the big ice, he can really skate and shoot,” said McGuire, in St. Paul on Monday to provide color commentary on NBC Sports Network’s telecast of the Wild-Philadelphia Flyers game.
“This will be an amazing developmental event for him in his career. This is smart by Chuck, it’s great for the kid and his time with [coach Brent] Sutter and his connection to Red Deer is mammoth.”
Sutter was Dumba’s coach when he played for the Rebels of the Western Hockey League, so as Dumba said Monday, “He knows me as a player and I know him as a coach. I’ll work hard and do whatever it takes to reach our end result, which is getting our country gold again.”
Dumba has been scratched 16 times with the Wild, playing in only 13 games. So in Fletcher’s mind, it makes all the sense in the world to let Dumba play. In addition, with Dumba off the roster starting next week, having seven defensemen as opposed to eight will give the Wild more roster flexibility.
For example, winger Jason Zucker had to be returned to Iowa of the AHL on Sunday because Mike Rupp’s return to the team after a few days away due to a death in his family put the Wild at the maximum 23-player size again.
After the tournament, the Wild will decide whether to add Dumba back onto its NHL roster or return him to Red Deer. A lot will depend on where the Wild sits in the standings a month from now and the team’s injury situation.
“Developmentally, it’s the right thing for Matt to play in the tournament, so we really want it to happen,” Fletcher said. “He’s going to be an important part on their team and he should have a chance to play a leadership role. World juniors is such a big deal, in Canada especially. For his hockey career and just for his life, this will be a great experience.”
Shiner, and no visor
Center Zenon Konopka returned to the lineup Monday after missing Saturday’s game because of an eye injury. Konopka, who centered Rupp and Erik Haula, sported a shiner and stitches over his left eyelid after being struck with a puck Friday against Colorado.
“Talking to the eye doctor, he said how hard I got hit and where, I was lucky I didn’t have permanent damage,” Konopka said.
Konopka tried to return to Friday’s game, but after missing a pass from Jared Spurgeon, he stormed down the runway in a stick-swinging tirade.
“My eye couldn’t focus,” Konopka said. “I was like, ‘I can’t see,’ so I wasn’t happy. You take a lot of things for granted, and eyesight’s one of them.”
Still, Konopka was supposed to wear a visor Monday night but chose not to.
“So many years no wearing one, I just don’t like it,” he said.