Around this time last year, Matt Dumba
's NHL resume was a bit thinner than it reads now.
Dumba had just participated in the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament, and albeit in 13 games for the Wild the previous season, he was very much still a rookie.
A year makes all the difference — Dumba played 58 games for the Wild last season, scoring eight goals (third among Wild defensemen), and two power-play goals (second among Wild defenseman).
But the successes Dumba enjoyed in his true rookie season hasn't changed his mentality when it comes to training camp.
"You have to battle," Dumba said. "I was in that situation where you have to battle to stay in this lineup. It's one of the best in the League for sure."
At 21 years old, Dumba is still a very young player. With a season-plus in the NHL, he doesn't think he's hit his ceiling yet, or close to it.
"I've got tremendous strides ahead of me, and that's only going to happen through hard work and putting in the time here, on the ice, off the ice, all the little things," Dumba said. "I'm just trying to build on this potential that I believe in, and I hope other guys in the team believe in."
Tuesday night provided a good example when it comes to Dumba's self-assessment. He scored the overtime goal in the Wild's 1-0 win against Winnipeg, but wasn't focused on that in the postgame.
"I am always hard on myself; I'm my biggest critic," Dumba said. "It feels good [to score], but at the same time, it's preseason, and there are a lot of areas for improvement for me."
It's not only Dumba who has elevated expectations for his performances.
"He's raised the bar so high," Head Coach Mike Yeo said after the Wild defeated Winnipeg. "He played a pretty good game, but given what we know now of what he's capable of, I'd say that it was probably an okay game for him."
And as Dumba grows as a player, so does his profile. He was recently projected by NHL.com to make Team North America for the 2016 World Cup. The right-shot defenseman has become a weapon in the offensive zone, and difficult to play against for opposing forwards.
When it comes to playing his role on the Wild's defense, and the defensive corps overall, Dumba is confident.
"We might not get talked about the most, but I think we kind of like it that way," Dumba said. "Staying out of the limelight, and doing our job. Teams aren't taking us lightly anymore."
Dumba was third among Wild defensemen in average power play time per game last season at 1:34.
"That's the thing I worked on a lot this summer: my shot, my one-timer, just making sure that's as smooth as possible, and dialing that in," Dumba said. "I feel really confident right now, so hopefully it just keeps coming."
As the Wild has begun incorporating special teams into preseason practices, Dumba is back in his familiar point spot. His smooth strides help maintain possession along the blue line, and his quick hands and feet are effective at evading penalty killers.
"I want to get the puck in the hands of the skill guys who are going to make those plays and see the ice, and just distribute the puck," Dumba said. "We did a good job of that last year especially in the playoffs, just finding those lanes and getting the puck to the net."
Dumba said both he and the team could build on the momentum they created in the second half of last season, with Dumba himself putting up strong numbers. Six of his eight goals were scored after Feb. 18 on. During the Wild's final 26 games of the season, Dumba was fifth among all Wild skaters in goals scored.
"The energy and everything that we had in the second half of the season can definitely roll over," Dumba said. "It's a very distinct feeling, winning, and that trust, and everything that goes into putting a streak like that together."
In the early stages of his career, Dumba has also been a possession-driving defenseman. Over his first 71 career NHL games, he has a shot-attempts percentage of 52.8 percent. Last season he was on the ice for 43 even-strength goals for Minnesota compared to 30 against.
In short, the numbers have been kind to Dumba. But none of that has him thinking anything other than continuing to work hard and grow.
"I always want to play with that chip on my shoulder," Dumba said. "It's just my personality, it's me — having that intensity and that passion to be the best player I can be."