ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will get a look at an important part of their future Saturday when they host the Anaheim Ducks at Xcel Energy Center as defenseman Mathew Dumba is expected to make his National Hockey League debut.
A smooth-skating, hard-hitting 19-year old defenseman, Dumba was the franchise's first round pick (No. 7) in the 2012 draft. It was thought Dumba would debut in Thursday's season-opening shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings, but Wild coach Mike Yeo decided to go with the bigger veteran in Clayton Stoner.
Luckily for Dumba, his parents are still in town from Thursday and will be able to watch their son's first NHL game in person.
"They're pretty happy," Dumba said.
Dumba learned he would make his debut on Friday after a conversation with Yeo. At this morning's skate, the team's veterans had Dumba lead the group in warmups.
"They've all been great," Dumba said. "[They've said] just go out there, play my game and have some fun. I've been playing the game since I was little, just relax and be myself out there."
Dumba will be paired with a familiar face on the blue line in veteran Keith Ballard, whom he paired with often during training camp and in the preseason.
Ballard, a veteran now in his ninth season, remembers his own debut well and had some simple advice for Dumba as he embarks on his own NHL career Saturday.
"I think the biggest thing for anyone making their debut is, do the things you do well," Ballard said. "If you're physical, be physical. If you can skate, skate. If you move the puck, do that. Stick to what you do well and what got you here.
"I just remember how fast it seemed. After a few shifts, everything slowed down and it was hockey again. It was what you've prepared for. It's a special moment."
For Yeo, the decision to insert Dumba into the lineup was a tough, but not unexpected move. He was pleased with how all of his defensemen played Thursday, including Stoner.
"We have a lot of good players right now," Yeo said. "That kind of stuff has a way of working itself out."
Communication will be the key for the Dumba-Ballard pairing Saturday and moving forward. Both have a tendency to jump into the play in the offensive zone -- something Yeo has stressed, at least when the time calls for it.
"Just having that overall awareness of where the other guy is," Dumba said. "Sometimes, it's not even talking, just knowing where he is, just having that support on the ice."