Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Matthew Dumba, the seventh ranked North American skater in the CSS mid-term rankings. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab. Be sure to read the end of this article, which has an update on John Persson, the Islanders’ 2011 fifth round selection.
As Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla became the 42nd player in National Hockey League history to notch his 500th goal back on January 7th in a 3-1 Flames victory over the Minnesota Wild, a loud cheer reverberated back in Red Deer, Alberta. Matthew Dumba could recall the times that he and his family would watch Iginla bring the then-Saddledome crowd to its feet, and in turn envision himself following in the same footsteps just a few short years later.
“Our family has been season ticket holders for the Flames since ’02,” said the six-foot, 185-pound Dumba. “And being a Flames fan, you can’t help but love the passion that Jarome brings to the ice.
“His leadership qualities, along with an ability to provide a spark by simply just dropping his mits are among the reasons why everyone in Calgary continues to love him.”
Sparked by growing up with the sport literally in his backyard, the now 17-year-old, Regina-born defenseman has indeed opened the eyes of many professional scouts. Just a few months before the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh takes shape, Dumba is making a strong case to not only being an NHL lottery pick (designated for the top five picks in the draft), but also being the top defenseman selected overall.
In his recent mid-season rankings, TSN’s Craig Button has pegged Dumba as the second-ranked prospect – behind Sarnia (OHL) right winger Nail Yakupov – in the entire draft.
“I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking about the NHL,” said Dumba, who is in the midst of his third junior campaign playing for the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League. “But there are a lot of steps that I need to take before I can get there. Hard work is essential.”
Dumba’s odyssey towards an eventual future in the National Hockey League began nearly 14 years ago, when as a four-year old he learned to hone his skating skills on a backyard rink built by his father.
“My dad always had a passion for the sport,” said Dumba, whose father Charle played junior hockey, followed by a stint as a referee in the Western Hockey League. “He taught me the basic fundamentals of the game, and I instantly loved it.
“I also loved being out there with my dad.”
Dumba would advance from the backyard rink to competitive hockey, where he excelled for the next decade on a peewee, midget and ‘AAA’ level. Nearly four years ago, a then 14-year-old Dumba was selected fourth overall by his current club – Red Deer – in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft.
“I was fortunate to always play for the best teams in the association,” said Dumba. “And being a defenseman from the start, I was able to work on my game and compete against top level opponents.
Before joining Red Deer as a full time defenseman, Dumba would play a majority of his 2009-10 campaign in prep school. After that season concluded, he would rejoin Red Deer for a brief eight-game stint, which spanned the final six regular season and two postseason contests. Dumba would tally two assists in his short stay.
Fresh off his proverbial taste test, Dumba returned to Red Deer as a 16-year-old to open the 2010-11 campaign. From the outset, he quickly became a fixture in fourth-year head coach Jesse Wallin’s line-up.
“It’s a big step for a 16-year-old to play on this level,” said Wallin, a defenseman, who spent his five-year professional career (1998-2003) playing for three American Hockey League teams (Adirondack Red Wings, Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and Lowell Lock Monsters), along with a brief NHL stint with the Detroit Red Wings, where he was awarded a Stanley Cup ring in 2002. “He came in and played a very safe game. But he obviously had great skill and raw ability.”
Dumba concluded his first full junior season by playing in 62 games, scoring 15 goals and assisting on 11 others. He added two goals in nine playoff games.
That mark, along with invitations as a member of Team Canada to both the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Manitoba, Canada and the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, would serve as a prelude to this season – his second as a Rebel – to where he was expected to be a leader on the blue line, and in the process impress scouts in all facets of his game.
Dumba, who not only led Team Canada with 12 points (all assists) in earning his country a Bronze Medal in the Under-17 Challenge and captained the Gold Medal winning Canadians at the Ivan Hlinka tourney, was fully ready for the challenge imposed upon him.
“I know what is expected of me, but I expect even more from myself,” said Dumba, who models his game after Los Angeles Kings standout Drew Doughty. “As a defenseman, I never back down to any challenge.
“I play a physical style game. I finish all my checks. Also, my skating ability allows me to do so many different things on the ice.”
Wallin also noticed a transformation from his 30-minute-a-night defenseman, progressing from steady to standout.
“He has definitely taken his game to another level,” said Wallin, who alike his precocious young blue-liner believes that a comparison to Doughty is an accurate one, simply because of his ability to rush the puck, along with a keen timing to engage physically. “Matt is a more confident player and plays much stronger than his size.
“While he might not get much bigger – weight wise – to where he is now, Matt has a very strong, muscular build. He has a strong center of gravity.”
To date, Dumba has scored 18 goals and assisted on 30 others in 62 games. He is currently tied for eighth in defensive scoring in the WHL. Islanders prospect Brenden Kichton of the Spokane Chiefs leads all defensemen in scoring with 64 points in 64 games played.
Yet, Wallin believes Dumba’s emotional drive to excel might be his lone drawback to his overall play.
“Matt is outgoing and energetic, but he sometimes gets too distracted by the moment,” said Wallin, “He definitely wears his emotions on his sleeves. If he learns to control that emotion, it will make him a better player in the long run.”
Unlike last season’s top overall pick and former Red Deer teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dumba isn’t afraid to voice any displeasure to his mates.
“I’m a leader in both ways (on the ice and in the locker room),” said Dumba. “If something needs to be said, I won’t be afraid to say it.
“If you are going to talk the talk, you better be able to walk the walk.”
Could Dumba’s high-end skill and emotion be a welcoming addition on Long Island? Could a 17-year-old (18 in July) provide that much-needed spark to light a fire in a locker room that many have questioned being void of vocal leadership?
The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is just 16 weeks away.
EXTRA: Dumba’s teammate John Persson, an Islanders’ 2011 fifth round selection (125th overall), has proven that he isn’t a one year wonder.
After collecting 61 points – 33 goals and 28 assists – while playing alongside Nugent-Hopkins last season, the 19-year-old Persson has rebounded with another strong offensive campaign.
In 61 games, Persson, a 6-foot-2, 211-pound power forward from Mora, Sweden, has scored 22 goals, while assisting on 32 others. He leads all Rebels in scoring.
While Dumba has received a better part of the press clippings and accolades, Persson’s play has surely not been overlooked by Wallin.
“Coming from Sweden at age 17, John had to make a big adjustment playing on a North American sheet of ice for the first time,” said Wallin, who compares Persson’s game to that of Detroit Red Wing forward Tomas Holmstrom, due to his strong play with the puck around the net. “He came back at 18 bigger and stronger, and had a great season playing on a line with Ryan Nugent Hopkins.
“This year, he is leading our team in points and has played very consistently and leads by example with his work ethic every shift.”
At season’s end, the Islanders will still have options on Persson. He could be signed by the Islanders and develop under their watchful eye in Bridgeport. He could also finish out his junior career in Red Deer by playing a fourth and final season.
“John is very effective from the top of the circles down in the offensive zone,” said Wallin. “He is very good at the net for tips, screens and rebounds.
“As every young player, John has to continue to work on his skating, which will allow him to be more effective on the next level.”