Sunday, January 5, 2014

Open letter to the Minnesota Wild

What to do with Mathew Dumba? 

You have a lot invested - the 7th overall pick is serious business.  Dumba has to pan out, or it will set the franchise back 5 years - or worse.

Many teams find themselves in this dilemma:  you have a player who's too good for junior hockey, but not ready for a regular shift in the NHL.  As a player in his 19 year old season - the only options available are the NHL and the WHL.  I'm sure that some seasoning in Iowa would be an attractive option for this player, but that's not on the table.

We all have high hopes for Dumba, furthered with him making the Wild out of training camp.  In his 3rd career game, he buried a nice powerplay goal, and went on to play over 15 minutes:

However, the jump to the highest level of hockey in the world is not an easy one, and its been hard to get Dumba in the lineup since then.  He's only seen the ice for 13 games this year.  In those games, he's averaging 12:26 of ice time.  There are 45 rookie defenseman who average  more ice time this season.

It made perfect sense to loan Dumba to Team Canada for the World Junior Championships, which just concluded.  While Canada didn't get the result they were hoping for,  he played an integral part of that D corps, and was counted on in all situations.  He didn't have the tournament he wanted on a personal note either: minor injuries, illness, and overall rust were factors that he fought to overcome.  The outside observer may conclude from this tournament that he's still not ready for a regular shift for the Wild.

Sometimes its easy to get caught up in the now: day to day, game to game.  If you keep a special player like this close to the vest, in the tutelage of the Wild coaching staff, he'll be ready to contribute any day now.  The  main goal with developing players that you have so much invested in is what is he going to be at 25, 26, 27 - and beyond?

You don't have to look very far to find a similar story: Nino Niederreiter.  Ask him what it was like that first year with the Islanders: healthy scratch, 4th line, no significant role, rinse-lather-repeat.  If the 5th overall pick can only manage 1 goal, zero assists, and (-29), don't you think he was better suited playing his 19 year old year in major junior?  Its not a stretch to think the only way Nino was available to you was due to the Islanders mismanagement of the player.  Nino's center in the WHL could tell you the same story - he got jerked around during his 19 year as well, and is just now starting to turn the corner.

One of the best benefits of Dumba finishing the season in the WHL is a potentially long playoff run, with a quality franchise.  Under the current regime, we've seen 6 defencemen drafted in the last 4 drafts - 3 in the 1st round - and 20 players overall.  This is a team that played more playoff games last season than Dumba's entire WHL career, and is a contender for their 4th trip to the league finals.

You sent him down to the World Juniors to face elite competition, be counted upon in a starring role, and be immersed in a winning culture.  Those are the same reasons to send him back to the WHL to finish the season.

A 19 year old needs to be playing games, period.  Weather its in St Paul or Portland is almost beside the point.  He needs the minutes, the experience, the progression.  I trust you'll make the correct decision.

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