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Dumba's sights set on full NHL slate

ST. PAUL – Thinking he had finished a short interview in the hallway outside the Minnesota Wild’s dressing room Wednesday, Matt Dumba reached down for the lunch he had laid on the floor.

Considering the Wild’s depth on the blue line, would the young defenseman be disappointed if he started next season with the franchise’s minor-league team in Des Moines?

Dumba froze halfway to his food and glanced sideways at his inquisitor as if to say, “Dude, seriously?”

“Uh,” he started, searching for the politically correct answer. “That’s not my goal. I’m going to do whatever it takes to stay here.”

It’s hard to blame Dumba if he’s tired of discussing roster moves. The seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft spent his first, short stint in the NHL addressing the topic as the Wild debated keeping the 19-year-old defenseman or sending him back to the major junior Western Hockey League.

And there he was, on the first day of the Wild’s prospects camp, two weeks shy of his 20th birthday, answering the same dang question he answered nearly every day before the Wild sent him to play for Canada’s junior national team on Dec. 11.

Only this time, it would be the Des Moines Wild of the American Hockey League, a step up from the Portland Winterhawks, the team he led to the WHL finals last spring with eight goals among 18 points in 21 playoff games.

In 26 regular-season games, the last of his four major-junior seasons, Dumba had eight goals and 16 assists. But after starting the season in the NHL – Dumba had a goal and assist in 13 games with the Wild – he must have felt like the biggest kid on the block.

“You feel like that, but you come back to reality real quick,” he said.

The WHL is generally regarded as the toughest, physically, of the Canadian Hockey League’s major junior circuits, and league champ Edmonton – which beat Dumba’s Winterhawks in seven games for the title – went on to win the CHL championship.

“These kids in that league are going to push you and challenge you every night knowing who you are,” Dumba said. “You have to keep a level head, because if you start thinking you’re all that, and you stop working hard as you normally do, you’ll find you’re not making plays like you want to.”

So, mission accomplished there. Now, what does Dumba have to do to secure a permanent spot with the Wild?

“He’s like every kid; he just needs experience,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “It will be his first pro season, and he needs to gain confidence at the pro level. We’ll let his play dictate the decisions.”