Ryan Donato has had a wild 13 months, pun intended.
Donato went from being an above-average student-athlete at Harvard to an overnight Olympic star before earning his first NHL contract with the Boston Bruins last March. And then, a few weeks back, when the Bruins needed an immediate fix to their third-line center situation, and prior to the trade deadline, they went out and acquired Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild at the cost of sacrificing Donato. At the time, the 22-year-old was plying his trade in the AHL, just trying to do enough to earn him a second chance at the NHL this season after recording just nine points in 34 games with Boston.
The trade couldn’t have worked out any better for Donato.
In the 14 games since Boston dealt him to Minnesota, Donato has 13 points, the most of any player traded since Feb. 22. It’s not uncommon to see players thrive out of the gate with their new team – Mark Stone has six points in as many games with Vegas – but Donato’s success is all the more intriguing given his status as a relatively unproven NHLer. For comparison, Coyle has just two points in 12 games since moving to Boston.
For a team sitting one point behind the Arizona Coyotes in the Western Conference wild-card race, Minnesota can use all the help they can get. Captain Mikko Koivu and defenseman Matt Dumba won’t return this season, with the Wild relying on players like Donato to pick up the slack.
In Boston, it was clear Donato was never going to thrive in a depth role. He’s a goal scorer, simple as that, and Donato has shown chemistry in Minnesota when thrown on the top line with Eric Staal and Jason Zucker, and Donato has given Pontus Aberg a bit of a push, too. Donato’s near point-per-game pace probably isn’t sustainable at this point in his career, but he has definitely made the Wild faster and more dangerous around the net.
Donato is a good example of why NHL teams shouldn’t rush players destined for a scoring role into shutdown situations with limited minutes. Donato adjusted well to the AHL as one of the Providence Bruins’ go-to scoring threats, but he wasn’t given many opportunities to succeed with the big club. He was primarily used as a third-liner, playing 11 or fewer minutes 14 times in 34 games with the Bruins. That’s not effective usage for a developing player such as Donato. You also shouldn’t bury goal scorers down the roster in their development years, especially not alongside the likes of Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly.
Yes, players typically produce at a better rate when skating with more talented players. But with Donato, all he does is score. There’s a reason people took notice when he tied Wild top prospect Kirill Kaprizov and Ilya Kovalchuk for the Olympic lead in goals despite Donato playing on an American team that was ousted in the quarterfinal. In college, only current Vancouver Canucks forward Adam Gaudette had more goals (68) than Donato (60) during Donato’s three-year NCAA career, and with five goals in a 12-game run with the Bruins last season, the signs of a sharpshooter in the making were there.
There’s a lot of work still to be done in Minnesota. Kaprizov won’t arrive for at least another two seasons, and the overall prospect pool is rather thin. Donato’s entry-level contract expires at the end of the season and it would be in Minnesota’s best interests to retain his services long term. Next season, Donato will get a chance to prove himself in a full season for the first time and he clearly has the talent to earn top-six minutes. It’s up to the Wild to keep giving him the chance to prove it.