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  • Will the Wild Really Break Up the Dumba-Brodin Pairing?

    Kayla Hynnek

    The Minnesota Wild’s top defense pairs were constant for a long time. Ryan Suter was almost always with Jared Spurgeon, and they’ve always paired Matt Dumba with Jonas Brodin. There’s a good reason why: It worked! But the Wild have made many changes in the past few years. They bought Suter out, and there has been a lot of turnover on the third pair. Now we’re seeing some of the biggest potential changes yet.


    Head coach Dean Evason is starting training camp with Brodin and Spurgeon together, and Dumba with Jake Middleton. The third pair will likely be Calen Addison and Alex Goligoski or Jon Merrill. So how does this defensive shake-up work out for the Wild?


    In every training camp, Dumba has been at, he’s almost always paired with Brodin. Aside from when former head coach Bruce Boudreau tried pairing Suter and Dumba, which failed miserably, this partnership has lasted for nearly seven years. They’ve built up chemistry over all these years, so why is Evason splitting them up?


    “The thought process is that Brodin and Spurgeon can play against the [top players],” Evason said, “the [Connor] McDavid’s, the [Nathan] MacKinnon’s of the world, the way that they skate.” Jonas Brodin is arguably one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. The way he can move the puck, play in every situation, and log heavy minutes is invaluable to the Wild. It’s not surprising that Evason wants to see how Brodin does with a fellow minute-munching defenseman in Spurgeon. They have a more similar playstyle, and that might work well against the opposing teams’ top players.


    Dumba and Middleton also have a similar style of play. They both have an aggressive approach to the game and are not afraid to be physical. Nobody will want to play against them. However, they still provide Top-4 level skills. As evidenced in his time in San Jose, Middleton can be very complimentary when playing with a more skilled defenseman, like Erik Karlsson.


    Evason has confidence in his defensive group. “That’s not saying one of our other D, Middleton or Dumba, can’t (play against top guys),” he said. “That was our initial thought process, but it’s been one day. Maybe we’ll change our minds.”


    That’s exactly what happened Dumba and Suter played together. They just didn’t have the chemistry, and Boudreau reunited Dumba with Brodin.


    However, Dumba is eager to play with Middleton. “I’m really excited for the opportunity that me and Midds have,” he said. “Talking to the guys, talking to Midds, if we’re matched up against those bigger, grittier lines, that plays right into Midds’ hands. That’s the kind of game he wants to bring.”


    It also might be better for Dumba to play with a tougher guy, so he doesn’t feel obligated to be too physical. In 80 NHL games played, the 6’3”, 210-pound Middleton has 139 hits and 11 fights. Dumba tends to get serious injuries from unnecessary hits or fights. Last season, he broke a rib and dislocated another, which led to a punctured lung. That all came from a massive hit on Nashville Predators forward Michael McCarron. If Middleton is there to provide the physicality, Dumba can make the skilled plays and hopefully avoid any injuries.


    ”I also want to bring that intensity and physicality to my game. I think I can use my strengths against those players too,” he added. “Their speed, quickness, I can use my skating ability to get up the ice and take advantage of those guys as well.”


    On paper, the top four defensive pairings look like they should work out. Dumba and Middleton were the top defensive pair during Sunday’s first preseason game against Colorado. They both logged heavy minutes and added a combined three shots, four hits, and four blocked shots. Middleton did not tally any points, but Dumba had the secondary assist on the overtime-winning goal.


    How Dumba plays this year is crucial to his future and also the Wild’s. Dumba is in the last year of his contract and will become a free agent if the Wild don’t trade or re-sign him. If the Wild cannot afford to keep Dumba, they may even trade him at the deadline. Dumba’s play this season could also determine what kind of return the Wild could get for him. Seeing the types of players Dumba works best with is crucial. He is still a highly skilled right-shot defenseman, so there is no doubt that teams will be interested.


    Dumba and Middleton only played less than ten minutes together in all of last season, so we're in uncharted territory. The rest of the preseason will likely indicate what the defensive pairs will turn out to be. But the two looked good together in their first game, so we’ll probably see more of them.

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