So what do we know so far about what we've seen from Dumba? He's certainly had his moments; he's got excellent footwork so keep up with the pace of play. He's got a huge right shot from the point (which he isn't afraid to use), which is something this team needs on the power play. We've seen him creep down the weak side and bury his first NHL goal, a sign of his offensive instincts. Then we've seen some mental errors, and at times he's looked way over his head. Opponents can force his hand by taking away his time and space- we've seen him cough up the puck at the offensive blueline leading to odd man rushes- and in occasions like last night he can get walked and get caught in his own end. He's struggled no doubt, and has been in and out of the press box; even given the task of "watching how Suter and Brodin play."
So my question is this; what will Matt Dumba get from a fourth year in the WHL at Red Deer? Yes, he'll play a ton, and with The Rebels toiling near the bottom of the standings, there is a good chance he'd get dealt at the Trade Deadline to a team bolstering its roster for a WHL Championship and possibly a Memorial Cup run. Head Coach Brent Sutter is a respected hockey man, so Dumba would be in good shape in that regard.
But where would he be challenged? How would he improve? It goes beyond just "playing a lot."
It's easy to look at his struggles and say he doesn't belong; but he is a 19 year old playing in the best hockey league in the World. I do believe we, as fans, do get spoiled by the instant success of players across the NHL landscape; not every player is Jonas Brodin, to make the point closer to home. That's what makes Brodin special; it isn't that Matt Dumba isn't special- his off-the-charts talent and character is a tremendous combination- but he shouldn't be discounted because he isn't as NHL ready as Brodin, or Jacob Trouba, or Seth Jones. Not every rookie is; some take some time to develop- Dumba was never touted as an immediate step-in-and-go guy from the get go- and in the impatient world of sports fandom, we seemingly do not have time for projects or players who aren't overnight successes. Chuck Fletcher isn't in the business of churning out Calder Trophy winners, so Matt Dumba's career thus far shouldn't be defined as such.
The precedent is there with Minnesota's handling of Dumba; he got extended time with the big club at the end of the lockout last year, which was purely an educational and nurturing process. Principals like Player Development Czar Brad Bombardir, Assistant Coaches Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor, and even teammates like Ryan Suter are all there to give Dumba guidance and work with him hands on. He isn't going to get that in Red Deer- even in practice he'll be participating in a higher level of play. You get better by playing with better players period.
Let's not forget that he's still learning to be a professional; it's not that he's a spitfire off of the ice, but he's being spoon fed the daily grind of what it takes to make it. Not just practices, or in games, but the off-ice stuff too- the travel, the preparation, finding the balance.
Chuck Fletcher has flat out said that the nine game mark isn't on his mind from the get go, and nor should it be- how does nine games help Dumba going forward? Do you take a big step developmentally by just spending one month of the season with the team? No. At the moment he provides depth for a suddenly banged up blueline, and when he does play, he's playing pretty decent- the team is roughly five shots better when he's on the ice. He is getting a nice bump from the offensive zone starts, but that's Mike Yeo putting him in positions to succeed.
It's just that all we see right now are the rookie errors.
If it is up to me, Dumba stays. To me, there is more to gain by being able to be so hands on with his development even if he sees roughly 10 minutes of playing time every other game or so. The kicker, however, will be when he approaches 40 games played; if he reaches that point, then he will be one year closer to unrestricted free agency, which can always be a hairy situation.
That being said, if Matt Dumba is about play in his 40th game of the year, then this whole conversation will be a moot point, as he would have shown the requisite improvement and work ethic to get there.