ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba got his first real taste of the NHL last season. It was one stop on a whirlwind tour that entrenched Dumba as one of the League's top defense prospects.
This season he hopes to turn that experience into a full-time role with the Wild.
"I was all over the map," Dumba said. "But it was fun every step of the way. I was learning something new every day when I was up here with Minnesota."
Dumba checked a number of firsts off his list in his brief stint with the Wild last season. He skated in his first game Oct. 5 against the Anaheim Ducks; scored his first NHL goal in his third game Oct. 12 against the Dallas Stars; and got his first assist Oct. 24 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
But November came and Dumba wasn't getting regular playing time. The Wild didn't want to stunt the development of the 19-year old, so they released him to play for Canada in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.
After being the final player cut from the Canada WJC team in 2012 and 2013, Dumba got his chance to play in the tournament and had one assist and a plus-4 rating in seven games. He spent much of his time in Malmo, Sweden ill and didn't play close to 100 percent, but said it was worth the trip.
"It was an amazing feeling," he said. "I had been working for that for quite a few years. Cracking that roster was a dream come true. It didn't go as planned and we ended up in fourth place, but it was still a great experience."
After returning from Sweden, Dumba was sent to the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League, who acquired his rights from the Red Deer Rebels. He had eight goals, 24 points and plus-31 rating in 26 regular-season games; Portland went 25-1-0 with Dumba in the lineup.
He then led WHL defensemen with eight goals in the playoffs, and his 18 points in 21 games were second. The Winterhawks advanced to the WHL final against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
"Just getting that taste and then getting sent back, it was motivation to be [in Minnesota] full-time," Dumba said. "That's what I've been working hard for, and this summer it's always in the back of my mind when I'm training, when I'm on the ice. Just being there and making it a full-time deal."
Minnesota closed its prospect camp with a scrimmage at Xcel Energy Center. Dumba was one of two players who has NHL experience (defenseman Christian Folin played one game at the end of last season after signing out of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell), making him the veteran of the group. But it didn't change his approach.
"Just trying to be that sponge, take it all in and learn as much as I can," Dumba said. "Just make it a learning week."
Dumba hopes it's a learning experience that leads to an NHL job. If not, he is eligible to play in the American Hockey League for the first time.
"I want to be [with Minnesota] next season and I'll do whatever it takes to be there," Dumba said. "But at the same time, looking at it with perspective, there's a plan for me. Everything happens for a reason."
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