ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Don't get Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba wrong -- he loves Red Deer, Alberta.
But as someone who has spent considerable time there in pursuit of his National Hockey League dreams, Dumba now would prefer to move a bit further south.
Dumba won't turn 19 years old for a couple more weeks, but the No. 7 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft already has spent three seasons with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. If he doesn't make the Wild this fall out of training camp, he'll have to spend a fourth winter on the Alberta prairie because of the agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League that prevents him from being sent to the minor leagues until he's 20.
"It just adds to my competitive edge," Dumba said. "I know I have to come in here and work hard and show that I deserve a spot on this roster."
It has been a whirlwind year for Dumba. This time last year, he was a wide-eyed first timer at the Wild's prospect camp, a week-long event at Xcel Energy Center for players in Minnesota's system. That camp came a couple of weeks after the organization had signed free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, setting the expectations of Wild fans to an all-time high.
Dumba, a high draft pick taken just a couple weeks before that camp, was one of the most popular draws at a scrimmage that drew nearly 10,000 fans.
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Following the lockout, Dumba was invited to training camp, and to the surprise of most, was on the opening-night roster as the youngest player in the League. (Nashville's Filip Forsberg, who played five games at the end of the season, was the youngest player to skate in a game last season.) He didn't play any NHL games during the 2012-13 season, but stayed with the club for several weeks, learning much about becoming a pro -- how to prepare, how to eat, how to sleep and how to practice.
He was sent back to Red Deer in February and finished the season there before being recalled by the Wild as they headed into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He did not play in the postseason, but gained experience as one of the team's "black aces."
"It's nice having that experience and, in this last year, I've gained so much of that," Dumba said. "I'm so thankful for the opportunities [the Wild] gave me to develop and grow. I've learned a lot and I still have a lot to learn. But it helps with everything. I know what to expect and I just want to keep building on that foundation."
Of course, Dumba will be looking to make lightning strike twice: The Wild had incredible luck last season with a 19-year old rookie defenseman in Jonas Brodin -- perhaps the best rookie defenseman in the NHL last season.
For his part, Dumba already looks more comfortable as he approaches perhaps the most important stretch of his hockey-playing life to this point. By all accounts, he has a legitimate chance to make the Wild's active roster this fall.
Minnesota has made a number of changes to its defensive core -- buying out Tom Gilbert, signing free agents Keith Ballard and Jonathon Blum, trading Justin Falk to the New York Rangers and re-signing Jared Spurgeon to a three-year deal. Dumba likely will compete with Blum, as well as veterans Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser, for the final couple of spots on the Wild's blue line.
"He's really coming," Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. "He's a pro already with the way he thinks, the way he prepares himself. What our message to him is, 'Relax, have fun and whatever happens, happens.'"
"The NHL is where I want to be," Dumba said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to get there."