When Dumba has been in the lineup for the Wild this year, the team’s record is 38-13-1.
In terms of getting credit for the Wild’s second half blitzkrieg of the Western Conference playoff scene, Devan Dubnyk has (deservedly) been the first, second, and third storyline. His play has undoubtedly been outstanding, and he has single-handedly kept the Wild in several games that they won in the third after a couple periods of rough play.
One storyline that has flown a bit under-the-radar, however, has been the emergence of Matt Dumba. The second-year defenseman is still only 20 years old, but he has become an established part of the Wild’s success in the last month or so.
When Dumba was taken by the Wild with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, he was profiled as an offensive defenseman with a heavy slap shot. With four goals in the month of March alone, Dumba has begun to fill that role for the Wild. His slap shot is already the stuff of legends, with a new victim for his blast seemingly every week. (Including teammate Devan Dubnyk in practice.)
However, Dumba’s 2014-15 season has been far from all roses. Dumba spent seven weeks in Iowa with the Wild’s AHL affiliate, and saw a couple of healthy scratches earlier this season. However, since his return to the NHL version of the Wild in January, his Time on Ice has increased each month, from 13:14 in four games in January, to 14:53 in February and 18:38 in March.
Dumba has seven goals in those 32 games, and although judging defenseman is a far more difficult skill than judging offensive players, Dumba seems to have improved on that end as well. For one, his increased Time on Ice shows that Yeo trusts him more, and he’s even getting more TOI during important times in the game. His +/- has also been outstanding since his return, at +18. Plus/minus can be a flawed statistic, as Dumba has certainly benefited from the Wild, as a whole, leading the conference in goal differential since January 15 by a oceanic gulf’s worth, but his improved play passes the “Eye Test” as well.
In an excellent piece on Dumba about a month ago by Michael Russo in the “Minneapolis Star Tribune,” Yeo credited Dumba’s improvement with playing a more controlled game. While this may just be Coach Talk, playing within one’s self is an essential part of the transition to any professional sports league for every young player. And at 20 years old, Dumba is the youngest member of the Wild. At an age when most of us were embarrassing ourselves at house parties in college, Dumba is under the spotlight night-in and night-out as the Wild go down the stretch run towards the playoffs.
If Dumba continues to play this well, he will certainly be a big part of how far the team can go in the playoffs, a fact that didn’t look likely for either the Wild or Dumba just a couple months ago.
When Dumba has been in the lineup for the Wild this year, the team’s record is 38-13-1, and while the Wild’s swoon (the Wild were 5-15 while Dumba was in Iowa) may not be directly correlated with Dumba’s absence, he certainly has proven that the Wild can play well when he gets a lot of Time on Ice.