People start criticizing a team's draft choices even before they've finished selecting them. It's human nature to want to judge things too soon because it's fun to discuss. Even now, it's too soon to conclusively say whether the Wild make the right choice when they drafted Mat Dumba with their first round pick in 2012. That draft featured three defenseman going 7th, 8th and 9th overall. The Wild had the first of these picks, and as such had the first choice of these future top pair defenseman. Chuck Fletcher and company selected Dumba, and I believe that they made the right decision for the future of the Minnesota Wild.
I did not always feel this way though. Particularly, after the WJC in 2013, it seemed that Trouba was the better defenseman. He was a critical part of the gold medal winning team. Dumba didn't even make Canada's team, a team that It continued to seem like he was the better choice when Trouba managed to stick with the Winnipeg Jets rather than getting sent back to Junior like both Pouliot and Dumba. But seeing Dumba last season with the Winterhawks made it clear to me that Dumba has a much higher ceiling than I thought. There is a lot more to him than his defensive shortcomings. Dumba makes big mistakes sometimes, but he also makes dramatic plays that are successful, that can win the game for his team.
Trouba's major strength is that he's really good at most things while not having one aspect of his game that stands above his other abilities as being really outstanding. He's aggressive, physical, and has a shot good enough for the power play. Both Dumba and Trouba can be overly aggressive when they decide to be physical. Of these three players, Pouliot is definitely the most disciplined and the least physical.
Derrick Pouliot is a great defenseman on both sides of the puck. But he's kind of small, especially for a first round pick. He's worth a lot more than his size would suggest and has grown since the draft, although I'm not sure that he is six feet tall like his WHL profile says. Pittsburgh truly got a great player. Pouliot is a left shot too, and the year before this draft, the Wild had drafted Brodin, a left shot. At this time, the Wild did not know that Brodin would be suited to playing the right side. In building for the future, it was important to get balance. Also important is that if the Wild draft a guy whose last name is Pouliot in the first round and he is a less than amazing, Fletcher would never hear the end of it.
Of these three players, Dumba is the worst right now. That's not to say he's bad, but Trouba played 65 NHL games last season and averaged 22 minutes and 26 seconds in ice time. If Trouba had been on the Wild, his 29 points would have only been less than Ryan Suter of Wild defensemen. Trouba is making a big impact for in the NHL right now. Pouliot had 1.207 points per game in the WHL last season compared to Dumba's .923 points per game. When I say Dumba's the worst, it's relative. He had nearly a point per game last season, and that includes a time period where he was adjusting to new teammates in a new city, which is not an easy thing to do. Even so, he had the weakest season of the three players who were selected 7th, 8th and 9th in 2012.
But I'm still glad that the Wild chose Dumba, mainly because he's got the most offensive potential. He's got the potential to become a game breaker in a way that Trouba and Pouliot lack. While both Pouliot and Dumba are elite on the offensive side of the ice (and Trouba is darn good), when I watch Dumba, I always feel like he can do more than he is. If he can learn to balance his offensive instincts with the need to play defense, he will be a better player than either Pouliot or Trouba. It's going to be a hard balance to strike though, because he needs to be aware on defense without losing his enthusiasm, his randomness, and his ability to create offensive chaos. But when the Wild drafted him, they were drafting his potential, which is much greater than Trouba's or Pouliot's. It's very possible that Dumba will never reach his potential. But Chuck Fletcher was willing to take a risk on the future of a player who may have the ability to be gamebreaking.
The Wild need offense. They need guys who can put the puck in the net and guys who can help other guys put the puck in the net. Dumba, of these three defensemen, is the best at that. His reckless style is just what the Wild need and just what they are missing currently. Sometimes a player needs to do crazy things to get a team a desperately needed victory. That's what Dumba has more of than the two defensemen selected after him. Dumba may not make the Minnesota Wild when the 2014-15 season opens. But that's okay. Sometime in the future, he is going to be a force. He is definitely a player worth waiting for.