Minnesota Wild: Dumba bounces back after early-season criticism

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 31: Matt Dumba
ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 31: Matt Dumba /

Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba has had a rough start to his season. However, he bounced back in a victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

The coaching staff knew it. Fans knew it. Even teammates knew it. But, most of all, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba knew he needed to be better after being benched in the final period against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 31.

Dumba’s costly, no-look backhand pass in his own zone led to a Nikolaj Ehlers breakaway goal, the eventual game winner. Yet, it wasn’t just this play that led to Dumba’s benching, but multiple offensive and defensive breakdowns in the game. Not to mention, the start of the season

This comes after the Wild showed faith in its fourth year defenseman in the offseason. In fact, they traded prospect Alex Tuch to the Vegas Golden Knights, so that Dumba wouldn’t be chosen in the expansion draft. Instead, Erik Haula was selected and the Wild were able to keep their young defense, who had just come off a career year with 11 goals and 23 assists for a total of 34 points. 

Although there is much to like about Dumba, he’s wasn’t a finished product at the end of last season. Of course, offensive production has never been the issue. Rather, it’s been his defensive play that’s made many uncertain about the kind of player he’ll become. 

Fast forward to this season, and it’s safe to say Dumba’s production has been substandard. Before the Nov. 2 tilt against the Montreal Canadiens, Dumba had zero goals and three assists through 10 games. Perhaps more alarming was the fact he only registered 11 total shots. Ultimately, this led to him being benched by Bruce Boudreau after gift-wrapping a pass to the Jets’ Ehlers. 

Basically, the message was loud and clear: The Wild needed Dumba to step up his game.

Two days later in St. Paul, that’s exactly what the 23-year-old did.

Twelve seconds after Matt Cullen opened the scoring against the Canadiens, Dumba snapped a quick shot from the blue line. Nino Niederreiter tipped it past struggling Montreal goaltender Carey Price. Then, later in the first period, Dumba fed Cullen for a 2-on-1 with Tyler Ennis, giving the Wild a 3-0 lead.

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Through one period, Dumba was a plus-2 with two assists. Offensive production? Put a green check in that column. As for the erratic defensive coverage and gap control? Solid. In fact, it was arguably Dumba’s most complete game. He read his gaps well in the defensive zone and looked poised and confident. There were no sloppy mishandles or missed coverage assignments.

Overall, this was exactly the response Boudreau was looking for and he rewarded Dumba with a season-high 25:58 of ice time.

In reality, Dumba has always been considered a high risk, high reward player. He has the pure offensive ability, but his IQ and hockey sense hasn’t always complemented his game. As a fourth-year pro, the leash is not as long as it once was. The Wild need him to play the complete game he played against Montreal all year long. If he’s as efficient defensively as he was offensively last year, that’s a scary sign for opponents.

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In the end, confidence from the coaching staff and management is important, but it’s not where Dumba’s success starts. That comes from building confidence in himself. His latest game against the Canadiens is a good way to start building that confidence, hopefully leading to a breakthrough season for the youngster.