It's difficult to understand exactly how a player is developing without watching him. Stats and boxscores can help, but they can only get you so far. On paper, Mat Dumba's time with the Portland Winterhawks looks great. The team lost one regular season game with him in uniform. That's one loss out of 26 regular season games. And so far, they've lost only two playoff games--including beating the number one ranked Kelowna Rockets in four straight after losing game one. So few losses suggests that Dumba has been quite essential to team success. And he has been. There are a number of circumstances, however, that factor into the overall team success and Dumba's personal success; he's an impact player on a tremendous team. The Winterhawks are a team that score a lot of goals and the lack of defense gamestyle suits Dumba's game far better than the all defense style of the Wild, which is something that Dumba will have to adjust to when returning to the pro game.
The main concern with Dumba is that he freelances too much. He tries moves that are "too cute" and seems to turn the puck over at his own offensive blueline at least once per game, which is fine for a team that scores. If the Wild are going to continue be a defense first team--and most of the guys on the roster would support that trend--Dumba is going to need to learn to think defense first.
It matters less to the Winterhawks if Dumba turns the puck over because even when it goes into his own net for a goal, the Winterhawks are still going to score an average of 1.819 more goals than their opposition. Dumba is really well suited for a team that game-plans to beat opponents 7 to 4. That's the way the Winterhawks are designed. That is not the way that the Wild are built. The Wild want to win 2 to 1 games or 3 to 2 games. When he's playing pro hockey next year, he may need to adjust to the more defensive style or the fanbase will turn on him when he causes a few ugly goals against. But I think we as fans should prepare ourselves mentally for that. It's part of his game to be an occasional defensive liability. It's also part of his game to score an average of .92 points per game in the WHL. Not too shabby.
The Winterhawks' Valentine's Day game versus Kamloops demonstrates a lot of the different aspects of Dumba's current game. He does a lot of elite things, but he also makes a few costly mistakes.
This video shows a goal where Dumba is too slow to stop the rushing forward who gets around him to score. But the next clip features his powerful slapshot. At the 3:30 mark, there is a great stretch pass by Dumba followed by a sequence where the announcers point out that Dumba is trying to do too much himself, which is possibly his greatest weaknesses. As they talk about him, he fails to get puck possession (his team is not really helping though), and Kamloops scores. Luckily, the Winterhawks have a lot of offensive depth, so a few mistakes did not cost the team the win.
Dumba also takes a lot of penalties which is pretty typical of the average player in the rough Western Hockey League. Some of his penalties are because he's out of position defensively or he's pushing the offense, but he also doesn't mind fighting. If the Wild are going to have an undisciplined face-puncher, it would be better if it were someone like Dumba who can fill the net with pucks rather than a less offensively gifted defenseman. Unfortunately, Dumba is not quite as big yet as the players who currently fill that role for the Wild. He's two inches shorter than Prosser and twenty pounds lighter. But he's still young. He'll get more muscle.
Right now, Prosser is playing right side defense with about the time on ice that Dumba could comfortably cover without being too much of a liability. But Prosser penalty kills, which is a role where Dumba would not excel next year. Dumba would probably be better suited to first or second pair minutes in Iowa until he improves the defensive side of his game. Dumba is not even on the first powerplay unit in Portland, nor is he on the first defensive pair. He's not going to be ready to play twenty-four minutes a night. He might be ready to play third pair minutes--maybe ten or twelve minutes per game. But that would kind of be a waste of his offensive ability. He would be much better suited to being a workhorse in Iowa and playing a lot of minutes against top prospects.
There's a lot to be excited about for the future of Mat Dumba with the Minnesota Wild. His slapshot is exhilarating and can dent a goalie's mask. He plays an entertaining style. And as more of the Wild's great prospects join the big club, Wild fans are going to find that the team is increasingly more fun to watch. Dumba will be a great part of the exciting offense of the future. He just won't be ready for it full time, next year.