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Dumba's development deepens Wild's D corps

ST. LOUIS -- It's one of the parts of being an AHL coach that John Torchetti enjoys most: sitting down with a player in his office in Iowa, putting on game tape and finding those teachable moments.

It was especially gratifying working with Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba -- in part because there was so much skill to work with, and in part because he was such a willing student.

The 20-year-old Wild defenseman started the season in Minnesota just a couple of years removed from being the seventh-overall pick in the 2012 draft.

He had a good summer. He had a good camp.

But as the season wore on, his ice time started to shrink. At one point, only the spreading of the mumps among Wild defensemen kept him in the NHL.

On Nov. 28, his ice time was a total of 4:10.

The confidence he was riding after a strong summer and solid training camp was gone.

"That confidence, it can waver," Dumba told ESPN.com following Friday's practice. "I got to a point where my confidence was high."

General manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo called Dumbain, and the news was delivered. He was heading to the American Hockey League.

The message from management was simple. They wanted him to play a ton of minutes. They wanted him playing in every situation. They wanted him making better decisions and simplifying his game. He needed to slow things down.

That's when Torchetti's teaching began.

He played Dumba a ton, making him the Iowa Wild's version of Ryan Suter, then they'd consume tape in Torchetti's office.

Torchetti knew he was making a connection when Dumba would look at a decision he made on the ice and shake his head, saying, "What was I thinking?"

And they would explore it. What was he thinking? What was the thought process that went into a decision to try to make a play when the better option was the easiest -- get to the bench for a change?

Torchetti would patiently explain that sometimes it's fine to dump the puck in and live another day.

"He was a quick teach," Torchetti told ESPN.com during a Friday afternoon phone conversation. "He bought into it right away. He understood, 'You know what? I have to slow it down.'"

There's something about playing three games in three nights that builds mental toughness. Or playing 35 minutes in a Friday overtime game and then riding a bus six hours to Grand Rapids after the game to play again the next day.

Torchetti and his staff put Dumba through every situation possible and watched as his decision-making improve, his game slow down and those mistakes on tape become fewer and fewer.

"That confidence came back," Dumba said. "It's amazing what you can do when you have a little of that. I'm a guy who can feed off that."

On Jan. 14, the Wild recalled him from the American League, a transaction that was overshadowed by the addition of goalie Devan Dubnyk on the same day.

Dumba returned to the lineup in Buffalo, a 7-0 win in which Dubnyk earned the shutout in his Minnesota debut. The Wild started to go on a run, battling back into the playoff race with the new goalie rightfully getting most of the credit.

Dumba, though, was having his own impact during the same stretch.

"He came back after his latest call-up and it was a much different approach to how he was playing the game just in terms of managing the game, letting the game unfold," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "Most players have to go up and down a few more times than that or spend a little more time in the minors, but he seemed to grasp that idea pretty quickly."

He was fighting for ice time, and it still fluctuated. Sometimes in the single digits, other times a little more. Then, on Feb. 18 in Calgary, came a breakout game in which he scored a goal and made a defensive play that set up the overtime game winner. The Calgary native was starting to find his game at the NHL level. In 14 March games, his ice time jumped from 14:53 the previous month to 18:38.

Yeo is going to lean on his veterans in the playoffs, but Game 1 showed a glimpse of the offense Dumba can provide. He scored Minnesota's second goal on the power play with a blast that beat Jake Allen.

His learning continues, now on a much larger stage than the AHL. He was a quick learner there, and early indications suggest it's going to come just as fast in the postseason.

"He has a great hockey IQ," Torchetti said. "When you mix it in with his passion and his compete -- he's going to be a lot of fun for the fans to watch in Minnesota."