Portland Winterhawks have Matt Dumba’s rights, should Minnesota Wild return him to junior

It's beginning to look a lot like a return to junior for Matt Dumba. Already set to be loaned to Team Canada for the world junior championship by the Minnesota Wild, the 19-year-old defenceman's potential safety net in the Western Hockey League has been switched.

The Portland Winterhawks have committed one player, young forward Preston Kopeck, plus conditional picks to get the WHL rights to Dumba. (So that was the "big news coming out of Portland".)

Rebels coach-GM Brent Sutter said Tuesday he had a Dec. 1 deadline "on for myself and this team that if Mathew wasn’t returned [from Minnesota] to our organization that I seriously had to look at another avenue to be able to acquire some assets and perhaps a quality player.” Kopeck, who is in his 18-year-old season, is out until January due to hernia surgery. He has four goals and 10 points over 24 games.

There is no guarantee Dumba will play for Portland. Two seasons ago, when the Tampa Bay Lightning lent Brent Connolly to Team Canada, Prince George traded the wing's WHL rights to the Tri-City Americans, which went for naught. Connolly, however, was playing much more as a 19-year-old than Dumba has for Minnesota.

The defenceman has been a scratch in Minnesota since Nov. 23, which can't be good for his development. Based on the NHL barring the Buffalo Sabres from sending Mikhail Grigorenko to the AHL for a conditioning stint, one could presume that is a non-starter for the Wild. So there's the reading of the tea leaves.

Dumba going to Portland, where the Winterhawks have access to the NHL-calibre Moda Center, might also allay any concern the Wild have about sending Dumba back to a junior puck precinct. That is another consideration; parenthetically, one could apply that to the Toronto Maple Leafs' decision regarding former Moose Jaw Warriors star Morgan Rielly, whose full-season status in the NHL still isn't assured.

The Winterhawks are leading the U.S. Division, once again and have scored 40 more goals than the next most profilic team in the WHL, Swift Current. In the wake of seeing off Seth Jones and Tyler Wotherspoon to the pro game, their team goals-against average has swelled in the 3.00-plus range. That is not Memorial Cup calibre.

Red Deer is puttering along in ninth place in the Dub's Eastern Conference with a .484 point percentage. Seventeen-year-olds Connor Bleackley, already the captain, and defenceman Haydn Fleury are two good building blocks for coach-GM Brent Sutter. This move, even though it involves someone not on the active roster, might signal that Sutter is cashing out for this season.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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