The one question regarding Mathew Dumba’s ability to jump to the NHL this season centered on his physical strength.
That may no longer be a concern.
“I feel that I’m ready to play in the NHL,” the Red Deer Rebels standout defenceman said Thursday at the Centrium, prior to the Black and White intrasquad game. “I feel that I got a lot stronger over the summer and that I’m in the best shape of my life right now.”
Dumba packed on five pounds of muscle during the off-season, a bodily improvement that could be the key to earning regular employment with the Minnesota Wild as a 19-year-old.
“I’ve worked really hard over the last month. I can really notice changes with my body and I’m happy with that,” said the Wild’s first-round pick — seventh overall — in the 2012 NHL entry draft. “All the guys in the NHL are men. You have to beef up to play the game at that level.”
The six-foot blueliner, who estimates his weight at between 185 and 190 pounds, checked into the Rebels camp Wednesday after participating in the NHL Players Association Rookie Showcase Monday and Tuesday in Toronto, where he was joined by numerous top draft picks from this year and last in signing memorabilia for the Upper Deck and Panini card companies.
“It was a lot of fun, a good couple of days. My dad was able to come with me and it was a really good time,” he said, admitting that signing his name up to 6,000 times was somewhat wearing.
“It started with your hand and then your fingers. From there, you could feel it in your forearm, shoulder and neck and then it took over the whole side of your body. It was fun, though,” he said.
Thursday’s Black and White contest might have symbolized Dumba’s final appearance as a Rebel at the Centrium.
“Hopefully I’ll be in the NHL this season, that’s my goal going into their (Wild) camp,” he said. “There’s a spot for me in Minnesota and I just have to go in and work as hard as I can to prove that I can stay there. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to be able to play at that level. I’ll go out there and work my hardest.”
Dumba, who leave for St. Paul, Minn., this weekend, is not concerned that he’ll be unable to handle the physical rigors of the NHL.
“It’s going to come down to the mental side of things . . . just allowing myself to play my game and not getting too worked up over anything,” he said. “I know there’s going to be mistakes made, but I just have to let things happen and let the play come to me. I’ll just try to learn from the veteran guys.”
Dumba was impressive during the Canadian national junior team summer evaluation camp in Montreal and ensuing three-game exhibition tournament — also including Finland, Sweden and the United States — in Lake Placid earlier this month. After being a late cut of the national team each of the last two years, Dumba will be a favourite to play on this year’s squad — with Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter at the helm — if in fact he’s available.
“The summer camp and the tournament were awesome. There was a great group of guys and having Brent there was great,” said Dumba. “I played really well and was happy with my performance.”
In a perfect world, Dumba will crack the Wild roster and then be made available to the Canadian junior team for the world championship starting on Boxing Day in Malmo, Sweden.
“I’ll be in a good situation whatever happens. Hopefully I’ll be with Minnesota and proving myself there,” he said.
And in the event that he’s returned to the Rebels for one final winter of major junior seasoning, Dumba won’t fret.
“There’s time. I want to play in the NHL one day and I’ll do that,” he said. “I just have to let things happen and control what I can control.”