Scouts reassessing top prospect Dumba

What a difference a year makes.

At the beginning of this season, more than a few experts considered Red Deer Rebels defenseman Mathew Dumba the best blueliner available in this year's NHL draft class.

By early April, though, Dumba had fallen from many of those same scouts top-10. So what the heck happened? More to the point, where does Dumba rank now?

To help answer those questions, we spoke to two veteran talent evaluators who watched the physical, smooth-skating 17-year old go a long way towards restoring his reputation at last month's IIHF Under-18 World Championship in the Czech Republic, where Dumba captained Canada to the bronze medal and became the first defenseman to lead the tournament in scoring.

"He brought his game back over there. He played real well," says scout No. 1, who saw Dumba play in four of Canada's games. "I think the reason maybe people had some doubts beforehand was because he was a little bit helter-skelter playing on a team that didn't do much in the WHL this season. He just sort of tried to do too much."

The other scout, who also works for a Western Conference team, was more blunt about why Dumba's stock plummeted over the winter.

"His biggest issues are on defense, and his tendency to sometimes force the play and skate into trouble," he says.

"People saw that sometimes he really struggled in his own end. He does play physical, but he needs to shore up his defensive game to play at the next level."

Dumba also was hurt by the excellent play from a few other draft-eligible WHL rearguards, such as Everett's Ryan Murray. Those players raised their games significantly during the season, both scouts said.

Interestingly, the brutally honest assessment-an essential trait for any scout-actually comes from two long-time Dumba fans.

"He does things you can't teach," says scout No. 2, who remains convinced that whatever defensive shortcomings Dumba might have, they are both correctable and worth taking a chance on given the player's natural offensive gifts.

"He is an excellent, explosive skater. He sees the ice great, and he has a knack for getting the puck to the net and scoring. He can run the power play and shoot the puck. He's a very good offensive player with good instincts. The defensive side will come."

Dumba certainly won't be afraid to work on it. "His [competitiveness] is something you've got to love," says scout No. 1. Still, some observers question whether the sub-six-foot Dumba will be able to play the same hard-hitting style he employs in junior against bigger, stronger players in the pros, but neither of the scouts we spoke to were concerned about that.

One thinks he's already almost as cerebral as Murray, who could go as high as No. 2 overall next month in Pittsburgh.

"I think they're very similar players," he says, "although Murray might be a little better in his own end right now."

Because of that, it's unlikely that Dumba -- who won't turn 18 until July -- will be taken by a team that needs help on the blueline. But he'll almost certainly first spend next season in Red Deer, refining his defensive game. Long-term, after watching Dumba redeem himself in Europe last month, both scouts believe Dumba could end up being as good a pro as Murray.

Of course, the more immediate question concerns where exactly Dumba will be picked.

One scout believes he could go as high as fourth overall. "He's not going to get out of the top 10," says the other.

What a difference a month makes.