The Portland Winterhawks (36-12-2-3) continue to dominate the Western Hockey League, beating Seattle 3-0 last night for their 10th straight win. Though the Winterhawks were impressive prior to the U-20 WJHC tournament, there’s no question the acquisition of Minnesota Wild rookie defenseman Mathew Dumba has bolstered their blue line.
In eight games since being reassigned by Minnesota, the 7th overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft has scored two goals and six assists for eight points and an impressive plus-17 rating. He joins Derrick Pouliot–who was coincidentally picked by the Pittsburgh Penguins with the very next pick in the draft–as one of the big guns on the back end. Behind them is a reliable supporting cast of veteran shutdown defenders mixed with one or two youngsters. Pouliot leads all Portland defenders in scoring with 13 goals and 37 assists for 50 points and a plus-26 rating.
When Minnesota returned Dumba to major juniors, they made it clear it had nothing to do with his performance at the NHL level. According to The Oregonian’s Molly Blue, Wild Assistant GM Brent Flahr stated it was the need for more ice time, to get a little bigger physically and to have a chance to play an important role in a deep playoff run that forced Minnesota’s hand.
“He’s a big part of our future,” said Flahr. With Portland, “he can play big minutes and still learn.”
What’s interesting is who Dumba has spent a lot of time playing with. Anton Cederholm is a sizeable Swedish left-shot defender at 6’2″ 214-pounds that complements Dumba’s offensive prowess with a confident, calming defensive presence.
“I like the offensive side of the game,” said Dumba. “He’s more of a defensive guy. He said that right from the get-go.”
Cederholm praised the Wild top prospect, complimenting his exceptional skating and booming point shot, saying, “since I’m taking the defensive part, it’s very good that he can go as much offensively as he wants to.”
The Swede was drafted 145th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks and has represented his country in several junior tournaments. In 52 games with Portland this season–the last several alongside Dumba–Cederholm has scored two goals and 11 assists for 13 points and a plus-26 rating. What’s more, playing with a partner the likes of Cederholm may allow a smoother transition for Dumba who will likely spend a lot of time alongside Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin in the not too distant future.
While it’s a limited sample size and he’s playing on a talented team, Mathew Dumba is on a point-per-game pace for the first time in his WHL career. There are a few reasons why he’s playing so well. One, he’s certainly not a rookie when it comes to major juniors, scoring 51 goals and 76 assists for 127 points in 199 career regular season WHL games over the course of four seasons with Red Deer prior to this year. He’s played on very talented teams (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Darcy Kuemper, anyone?) and on teams where he’s had to step up and be the man. Aside from a deep playoff run, he’s seen just about everything the “W” has to offer.
Two, he finally made Team Canada’s U-20 WJHC team and, even though they didn’t medal, it says something about your play when you make your country’s final roster for such a prestigious tournament. That had to have been a confidence builder if nothing else.
Three, he’s got 13 games of action in the best hockey league in the world under his belt. The WHL is small time compared to the NHL. He’s played in front of 18,000+ plus hard core hockey fans in arenas around North America and it certainly wasn’t a picnic. I should certainly think Portland is a cake walk in comparison.
However, just because he’s back in major juniors doesn’t mean he’s let his foot off the gas. Dumba can take to the ice confidently every night, knowing there’s nothing they can throw at him that he hasn’t faced before. He’s playing strong in both zones, munching big minutes as he continues to dominate offensively while also improving his defensive game. As the Wild brass have stated, Dumba is a huge piece of the future. This is a future top-4 NHL blue liner they have on their hands here. But, in order to fully get the picture of what he might develop into, you have to take a look at another young Wild defenseman that developed in the Canadian major juniors–2008 second rounder Marco Scandella.
The former captain of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Val-d’Or Foreurs, Scandella would play three seasons, scoring 23 goals and 59 assists for 82 points and a negative-31 rating over the course of 154 games. Not that impressive, but you have to take into account that the Quebec league has never been known for its defensive prowess. However, Scandella shone in his third and final season, scoring nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points and a plus-10 rating in 31 games. He would also score two goals and four assists for six points and a negative-3 rating in six 2009-10 postseason games. Scandella would also be named to Canada’s U-20 WJHC team that year, scoring a goal and two assists for three points and a plus-7 rating in leading his country to the silver medal. Scandella finished his banner season by notching an assist and a plus-2 rating in seven games with the Houston Aeros, Minnesota’s top minor league affiliate.
From there, the big 6’3″ 207-pound defender would spend the next three seasons going back and forth between Minnesota and Houston, notching four goals and 11 assists for 15 points and a negative-32 rating, and seven goals and 34 assists for 41 points and a plus-6 rating, respectively. Scandella emerged as a legitimate top-4 defensive option last spring, scoring a goal and an assist and notching a negative-1 rating in five short, yet sweet playoff games against the eventual Stanley Cup champs. That was the last he’d see of the minors, though the fact his contract turned into a one-way deal didn’t hurt his chances, either.
This year, Marco Scandella has decisively claimed a spot on Minnesota’s second defensive pairing, logging big minutes alongside both Jared Spurgeon and Nate Prosser while chipping in three goals and 13 assists for 16 points and a team-best plus-10 rating and skating an average of 18:33 per night. Only Ryan Suter (six goals and 27 assists for 33 points) has more points amongst Wild defensemen.
As you can see, Scandella has and is continuing to develop into a solid NHL top-4 defenseman. Mathew Dumba has the potential to be even better, much better in fact. He’s an excellent skater, an offensive dynamo with a howitzer of a point shot and relishes blowing up opposing forwards with bone-jarring hits. Simply put–this is the guy Minnesota’s scouting staff envisioned skating alongside Brodin on the Wild’s top pairing when Flahr tabbed him as the team’s top selection in the 2012 draft.
Top defenseman Ryan Suter is in his prime and serves as an incredible mentor for Brodin, but he’s eventually going to have to hand over the reins. When he does, it’s Minnesota’s hope that guys like Brodin, Scandella, Spurgeon, Dumba and 2013 top pick Gustav Olofsson will have developed into a strong defensive corps that can keep the Wild competitive and a serious contender for many, many years to come. If that’s to happen, these youngsters are going to have to take the opportunities they are presented, as in Dumba’s case, and run with them. That’s exactly what it appears he’s doing.