Defenseman Matt Dumba was considered one of the elite talents in the draft and Minnesota pounced on him with the seventh-overall pick.
Then on July 4, the State of Hockey was once again abuzz about the Wild, as Minnesota secured the talents of free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
After a lockout threatened to end the NHL season, an agreement was finally reached and players reported to their teams in mid-January for a shortened training camp.
Among those players was Dumba, who spent the beginning of the season with his junior team, the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League (WHL). The 18-year-old went through training camp with the Wild and impressed players, coaches and fans alike with his skating ability and poise on the ice.
“What made us happy was the poise he had with us here at camp,” Wild Director of Player Development, Brad Bombardir said. “He was out there playing against world-class players in certain situations and he didn’t look out of place.”
Instead of sending Dumba back to his junior team immediately after training camp, the Wild decided to keep him with the team through its first few games on the road. The blueliner did not play in a game for the Wild, but the experience was invaluable to him, as he has gone back to the WHL on a mission.
“I liked the way he moved the puck,” Bombardir continued. “For an 18-year-old to do that against NHL quality players is impressive. Defenseman will play a lot of years in the NHL if they are able to make a good first, crisp pass and make good decisions on where that pass should go.”
In 62 games for Red Deer this season, Dumba has been a force on both sides of the puck, putting up 42 points (16-26=42), while racking up a plus-10 rating. He has been even better since rejoining the Rebels following his stint with Minnesota.
“[Training camp] was a great experience, I knew how big it was going to be for me,” Dumba said. “I took as much as I could away from it, and it took my play to another level, that’s for sure.”
In the 15 games after training camp, Dumba is averaging better than a point-per-game, (6-13-19).
“Those ten games right when I came back from Minnesota were some of my best games of the year,” Dumba continued. “The play was a lot slower, it felt like I had more time and space with the puck and I was more poised with my decision-making.”
Now, as the regular season ends in the WHL, Dumba guides Red Deer into the playoffs where the Rebels swept Prince Albert, four games to none in the first round. Red Deer is currently down three games to one to the Calgary Hitmen, and Dumba was responsible for the Rebels win with an overtime goal.
The Wild is creating a culture of developing homegrown talent and has one of the top-rated prospect pools in the NHL, including Dumba. However, skating for Minnesota is in the back of his mind as he concentrates on the present.
“I’m in the midst of the playoffs with the Red Deer Rebels, so I’m trying to go one game at a time there,” Dumba said. “After a hard summer of training and getting myself where I need to be at that NHL level, I think I will be ready.
“I know what it takes to be at that level and that gives me a whole new motivation. I’m going to do everything it takes to get there next year.”