Red Deer Rebels coach Jesse Wallin
thought top 2012 NHL Draft prospect Mathew Dumba was playing some of the best hockey he's seen from his star defenseman all season during an intra-squad scrimmage Monday at Hockey Canada's National Junior Evaluation Camp.
Sometimes, however, your best isn't good enough -- a message Dumba received loud and clear this week.
Dumba was one of seven players released Tuesday as Hockey Canada began the process of paring down the 42-player group brought to Calgary for the evaluation camp to the final 22-player roster that will go to Edmonton and Calgary for the 2012 World Junior Championship.
Déjà vu in Red Deer
For the second straight year, Red Deer Rebels coach Jesse Wallin
has seen his top draft-eligible player cut from the Canadian national junior team.
Last year it was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
who was one of the last players cut from the team that earned a silver medal at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
"Ryan was a younger guy, a lighter guy … much lighter than the other players from a strength point of view, and he wasn't a fit," Wallin told NHL.com. "It had nothing to do with his ability; it's just where he was at in his development curve and I think it's important for those guys to understand that it's not a knock against them as a player.
"Hop responded the right way at the NHL level and you could look back and say, 'Maybe he should have played on that team last year.' Who knows? It's just important that they understand where they're at in their development; it's a big step for those 17-year-old kids."
It worked out OK for Nugent-Hopkins, who was taken by the Edmonton Oilers
with the first pick of the 2011 Entry Draft and currently leads all NHL rookies with 13 goals and 32 points.
Then just last week, his top prospect this year, defenseman Mathew Dumba, was cut from the 2012 WJC team.
"There's a big difference between a 17-year-old player and 19-year-old player … it's strength, maturity, and where you're going to fit on the team," Wallin said. "Playing in Canada is a big step; there's pressure that comes with it. Having three or four years of experience under your belt, as opposed to two, sometimes, in those crucial situations, comes to the forefront. I think it's realizing where you're at as a player and your development curve. Matt is in the same situation that Hop was in last year and we're hoping he has the same motivation Hop had when he returned to the team."
-- Mike G. Morreale
"There were other good defensemen on the ice and being the youngest guy out there (17 years, 4 months) kind of put him behind the 8-ball," Wallin told NHL.com. "This is an 18- and 19-year-old tournament and it's tough, especially at the defense position, to beat out some of those older guys.
"I don't think he played poorly at all, yet I also know they have to make decisions moving forward on the type of team they're trying to put together. I think he was just a little bit behind some of those older guys."
Earning a roster spot with Canada for the 2012 WJC was on Dumba's wish list this season, particularly in his draft year. He won a gold medal with Canada at the Ivan Hlinka
Tournament this past August and had a very nice showing in the Subway Super Series in November as a member of Team WHL against a team of Russian All-Stars, many of whom will represent that country at the 2012 WJC.
After the first round of cuts Tuesday, Canada coach Don Hay explained his reasoning behind releasing the 5-foot-11, 171-pound Dumba.
"Matt Dumba is an elite player and we knew he would do well here," said Hay. "But is he ready for this tournament at this time? We don't think so."
It certainly isn't the first time a top player was cut from Canada's WJC in his draft year -- it happened to John Tavares
in 2007, Tyler Seguin
in 2010 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
-- Dumba's teammate in Red Deer -- last year.
was very disappointed when he was cut, but he flew back from Toronto after a rough morning and we had a good chat," Wallin said. "He stepped on the ice that night and I thought was our best player. Matt can do the same thing; he's got to take it the right way and use the experience he's gained to make himself an even better player.
"It's probably the first time he's ever been cut from a team so he's not exactly sure how to take it. He's got nothing to hang his head about. I thought he played well and certainly wasn't out of place with the best junior hockey players in our country."
In 32 games this season, Dumba has 10 goals, 24 points and a plus-two rating. He also leads the team with six power-play goals.
"I really wanted to make this team," Dumba told members of the media Tuesday. "It was really hard to wake up this morning and pack my stuff up. Emotional, but I'll get through it."
Dumba is No. 3 among Western Hockey League skaters in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings. He was one of three 2012 draft-eligible players cut from the team, along with defenseman Cody Ceci of the Ottawa 67's and forward Phillip Di Giuseppe of the University of Michigan. Ceci is rated No. 10 among Ontario Hockey League skaters and Di Giuseppe is the lone 'A' player from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in Central Scouting's NCAA Players to Watch list.
Two top prospects did earn a spot on the 22-man roster -- defenseman Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips (WHL) and forward Tanner Pearson of the Barrie Colts (OHL). Last year, forward Sean Couturier
was the only draft-eligible player kept on the roster; he was taken by the Philadelphia Flyers
with the eighth pick of the 2011 Entry Draft.
"Matt Dumba is an elite player and we knew he would do well here. But is he ready for this tournament at this time? We don't think so." -- Don Hay
"Even though he is a high-end draft pick this year, he was still one of the youngest at camp," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said of Dumba. "As good as he is, it's still a big jump and older, experienced defenders have the edge. The experience probably was a good one and an eye-opener. It will be a positive for him and make him even hungrier next year."
Wallin feels Dumba now has a great opportunity to use his experience at the camp and to his overall game.
"His play for us prior to the camp had been sporadic," Wallin said. "He played well for a period of time from mid-October to mid-November and, of late, got a little away from his game. He's got to play within himself more and not force the issue. Matt's a guy with a lot of passion and plays the game with a lot of energy. Sometimes when things aren't going the way he wants, he tends to do more than needed. He's learning how to pick his spots; he can't expend energy trying to force things that aren't there."
Wallin saw a more poised, more confident Dumba at Canada's camp.
"He was physical in his own end and made good outlet decisions, played the rush at the right times," Wallin said. "He told me he felt good on the ice and some of those things we worked on over the first half of the year kind of clicked for him. So I'm really excited to see how this experience will improve his game."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale