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Playing the System: Dumba's Arrival

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Mathew Dumba is using his unique skill-set to elevate his defensive game. We should all hope he sticks with the big club.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Mathew Dumba has played the best hockey of his short career over the past few games. He's been a dominant force in the offensive end as well as effective in the defensive zone. Dumba has shown his speed,  patience, and skill multiple times while orchestrating controlled zone exits and entries. These are aspects of the game the Wild have really struggled with while protecting leads this season.

A large part of the difficulty playing with leads this year can be attributed to Wild players' unwillingness to make patient plays in their own zone with the puck. By this I mean they too often fall into the off-the-glass-and-out or throw-it-up-the-wall mentality. It's nearly impossible for teams to take control of a game if they do not possess the puck out of their own zone.

This is an area where Dumba will help this team. He's a guy that's always looking to create offense by using his speed and making aggressive passes. As an inexperienced player, his youthful enthusiasm/overconfidence has sometimes got the best of him and resulted in plays like this:

However, his puck-handling skills can also lead to plays like this:

A trap that many people fall into when evaluating defenseman is to only examine how they're performing when they're defending. But just as you can't judge a forward solely by his performance in the offensive zone, you can't focus only on the defensive zone when evaluating defenseman. Now more than ever, teams need all five players to be able to contribute in all zones of the ice because coaches are looking for any weak link to exploit. Have a defenseman who struggles to move the puck? You better believe teams will intentionally target his side of the ice on dump-ins, *cough* Nate Prosser *cough*.

It was nice to see Mike Yeo reward Dumba for a strong game in Calgary last Wednesday night by giving him a chance to play in overtime. With the extra space on the ice in the extra period, players like Dumba who are exceptional skaters become extremely valuable. Here is a quick breakdown of a great sequence in the defensive zone by Dumba in that overtime period.

Defensive zone coverage for 4-on-4 hockey is very straightforward. It's simply just straight up man-to-man. You can see below that Dumba's man, Jiri Hudler is breaking towards the net.

Dumba is a half step behind here which allows Hudler to get a quality shot on net that is stopped by the Savior.... errr I mean Dubnyk. The rebound is sitting there for the taking, but Dumba uses his speed and recovers his positioning to make a game saving poke-check. The puck squirts to the corner where Dumba wins a physical battle with the similarly built Hudler, and comes up with the puck. Check out the options he has here:

Nobody is particularly available here, and the second Flames forechecker is closing fast on Dumba. Not a single person would have blinked if he fired this puck up off the glass and out of the zone to relieve the pressure. That's what is characterized as the "safe play". Instead though, Dumba sees Scandella  (who does a great job to quickly open up), and sends him  a slick gloveless backhand saucer pass to start the breakout that lead to Koivu's game winning goal.

Here's the entire sequence in gif form:

With Dumba, it's important to maintain an overall view of what he contributes on the ice to gain the most accurate perspective. He may not be the most effective defender in his own zone due to positioning issues that can mostly be attributed to his being young and not completely versed in Yeo's defensive system, but the overarching fact is that Dumba's skating and puck-handling ability lead to less overall time spent in the defensive zone.