With Mike Yeo all but confirming that Mat Dumba will not be sent to Iowa for the start of the season, and he should be with the NHL club because he is, at worst, the fifth best defenseman that the Wild have under contact. There are still a ton of questions to be answered about the Minnesota Wild defense.The Wild need to determine who will sit in the press box as the Wild's spare defenseman/defensemen. Because the Dumba cannot sit. Not only is he one of the six best defensemen that the Wild can ice, they have a responsibility to continue his development. He will need to begin with sheltered minutes, and start in the offensive zone as much as possible, but they should want him in the offensive zone anyway because no other Wild defenseman has his skill in shooting the puck or his willingness to shoot it whenever it's in his possession.
When the Wild sent Dumba back to the WHL last season, he could have been paired with Derrick Pouliot. Pouliot is a left shot, was a first round NHL draft pick, and is obviously a skilled player both offensively and defensively. But his coach (the new Pittsburgh Penguins coach, Mike Johnston) probably didn't pair them for two reasons. Having two skilled offensive defensemen together would concentrate the offense in one place rather than spreading it out. Additionally, it left Dumba and Pouliot free to be the player joining the rush since their partners knew that they needed to stay back and serve a more defensive role. Dumba and Pouliot would be paired when Johnston wanted a positive shift of momentum or at the end of the game when the team was down by a goal or sometimes when they were each just deserving of a bit more ice time. And even though they were separated on two different 5 on 4 power play units, they would man each point on a 5 on 3 power play, rather than simply using the four forwards that made up their number one unit. The extra space on the ice was perfect for Dumba's lethal slapshot. The extraordinary talents of those two defensmen led to an unconvential usage for the Winterhawks which was very successful and gave Dumba plenty of opportunity to display his scoring prowess.
Mike Yeo should also give Dumba lots of power play time--ideally, he would have the most power play time of any of the defensemen. That sort of usage would utilize Dumba's strengths. I really hope that Yeo doesn't fall into his habit of using a less skilled player for a particular role simply because they are a veteran. If the team has the type of bond and character that the players seem to display, then the team should be able to cope with Dumba having more power play time than Suter. Dumba needs to spend all season gunning the puck towards the net, especially on the power play. When an opposition goalie tries to stop a shot with the velocity of Dumba's, he will more than likely give up a rebound. It would be glorious to see those rebounds if Dumba is on a power play unit with Parise and Vanek, who can spear those pucks home if Dumba doesn't get them in the net on the initial shot. Having Dumba on the first power play will have the bonus of pairing Pominville with Granlund on the other power play unit, giving them the opportunity to display their 5 on 5 chemistry in man advantage situations. But however the units are divided, Dumba should be part of a large percentage of the Wild's power play chances.
The coaching staff will also need to decide which defensemen make the best pairs for 5 on 5 play. Spurgeon and Suter are a good pair because Suter's need to conserve energy fits well with Spurgeon's controlled presence. I think this is also a reason that Brodin, who also doesn't make a ton of flashy, chaotic plays, works well with Suter. For that reason, I would like to see the Wild separate Dumba and Suter as much as possible. It's like Dumba's playstyle is Suter's kryptonite. Whenever the opposition steals a puck from Dumba or blocks a shot into the neutral zone with Dumba pinching, Suter would be the one who would have to rush back to the defensive zone, burning his valuable resources to chase back and help his goalie. Instead, I would like to see Dumba paired with Brodin who is fast enough to get back to the defensive zone if Dumba makes a mistake. Matching Brodin's otherworldly defense with Dumba's jaw-dropping offense could make for one super defense pair that can do everything. The fact that Brodin is almost as young as Dumba doesn't matter because almost everyone already acknowledges that Brodin is a smarter hockey player than most veteran defensemen. And Dumba could help Brodin cultivate a more offensive play-style. Brodin would almost certainly put up more points paired with Dumba than he has in his previous two NHL seasons.
And forgotten with all of Dumba's point production this preseason is that he can be a physical presence. For anyone lamenting that the Wild lost Clayton Stoner, or for fans (or journalists) who are worried that Wild players are not tough enough to make the opposition fear them, Dumba is just the tonic for their complaints. I don't want him fighting a ton, even though it's a skill that he displayed in junior, but I don't mind him levelling puck-watching opposition forwards with bone-crushing hits. If players on other teams know that the more physical Dumba is playing with Brodin, they might be more careful when hitting Brodin, and if that's the case, it would be an added bonus.
Sometimes Dumba is going to commit to a hit at the wrong time, or skate too deep into the offensive zone because he is trying too hard to create offense in a situation that requires caution and patience. But the Wild could certainly use a lot more of what is Mat Dumba's biggest strength: his willingness to try to create offense. He needs to be used in situations that give him the opportunity to make offensive plays while minimizing his opportunity to make mistakes. He needs to be paired with players who can cover for him if he struggles while also helping to get the puck back.
Dumba needs to stay in the NHL because the team needs his offense. Even if he is not entirely ready for the defensive side of the game, he's got offensive skills that none of his teammates have. For team that has always been focused on two-way play, which is a valid and useful way to build a roster, Dumba is something different. His exuberance and excitement and chaos can help move the Wild from a cautious and predictable team to one that makes spectacular plays even if it's at the cost of some spectacular failures. I'm glad that Mike Yeo sees that Dumba's offense is worth Kuemper or Backstrom having to make a few more dramatic saves. I just hope Yeo remembers it all season long.
If Dumba making the roster doesn't make you giddy, I'll just leave this silly power play goal video right here for you.