PORTLAND — Matt Dumba sounded genuinely happy on Tuesday after his first practice with the Portland Winterhawks. That is perhaps not the reaction many 19-year-old players would express upon returning to junior hockey from the National Hockey League.
Then again, Dumba — who is expected to debut in his Winterhawks’ No. 24 jersey when Portland hosts Moose Jaw at 7 p.m. on Friday — isn’t just any 19-year-old hockey player.
An offensive-minded defenseman who stands 6-foot and weighs 185 pounds, Dumba was the seventh pick in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild.
He played in 13 games for the Wild this season, registering one goal and one assist.
But for the rest of this season, he will be a Portland Winterhawk. And he has no problem with that.
“The NHL is great, but I’m still 19 years old,” Dumba said. “No rush. I’m kind of looking at this from a big picture standpoint, knowing that I’ve got many years ahead of me. I’m happy to be here. The junior lifestyle is fun as well, playing with your own age group, with buddies. I know a lot of guys on the Winterhawks, so it already feels good.”
Dumba was a teammate of Winterhawks Derrick Pouliot, Nic Petan and Taylor Leier on Team Canada at the recently completed World Junior Championships in Sweden.
A bout with the flu and a knee injury cut down Dumba’s impact at that tournament. He lost 10 pounds and visited with Wild doctors in Minnesota before reporting to Portland on Tuesday.
Dumba’s arrival is a payoff on a bit of a gamble taken by Winterhawks coach and general manager Mike Johnston. In December he traded promising forward Presten Kopeck to Red Deer for the rights to Dumba, who played three WHL seasons with the Rebels.
Dumba’s game is similar to that of the Pouliot, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect. Both are mobile defensemen who are eager to create offense.
“The way that (the Winterhawks) play is very high-paced and that’s my type of game, to get up in the rush and push forward and be on the attack, so I’m looking forward to it,” Dumba said.
He figures to get plenty of ice time, both five-on-five and on the penalty kill and power play. And he gives the Winterhawks a second right-handed shooter on the blue-line, which brings some balance to the power play.
The Wild told Dumba to take advantage of that ice time, something he was not getting as an NHL rookie.
“They want me to focus on being at my best, day in and day out, and just getting that consistency” in my play, Dumba said.