Ryan Donato didn’t exactly get traded to the best situation for his short-term development last season.
When the then 22-year-old was dealt from his hometown Boston Bruins for longtime Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle, he was being squeezed off the NHL roster in Boston. That team was destined for the Stanley Cup Final with a bevy of integral, established forwards such as Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
There was so little room for Donato that he split time between Boston’s AHL affiliate with the NHL club, appearing in only 34 games for the Bruins that year. Then, he was traded. Minnesota, in an effort to get younger and retool its roster, added the potentially electric Donato. He had shown that explosiveness in his time at Harvard, putting up two 40-plus point seasons, and in spurts at the NHL level.
Unfortunately for Donato, the situation in Minnesota wasn’t much different from Boston. With a Wild roster loaded with one-way contracts, especially in the forward group, the main difference between Minnesota and Boston was that the latter made it to the playoffs.
Donato Deserves a Better Look
Donato has shown he’s a player who is a dynamic, scoring, top-six forward. When given ice time he has shown that he is capable at producing at the NHL level. But as soon as there was a potential opening at the end of the Wild’s 2018-19 campaign, former general manager Paul Fenton signed two players to take up more of that space — Mats Zuccarello to a five-year, $30 million deal and Ryan Hartman to a two-year, $3.8 million deal (contract specifics courtesy of CapFriendly.com)
Looking back to 2018-19 again, Donato proved capable of holding down an NHL spot on a regular basis. He managed 16 points in his first 22 games with Minnesota, and while he wasn’t a game-changing forward oftentimes, he had points in nearly three of every four games he played that year. In addition, he averaged 15:33 of ice time in those games with the Wild, the highest number in his young career.
After Zuccarello and Hartman came into the fold, their presence limited Donato’s options on the wing. Although he is listed as a center, per HockeyReference.com, he has spent much of his time at the NHL as a wing player.
He spent much of the 2020 season experimenting at the center position or buried on the fourth line. The one bright spot for Donato is that Wild captain Mikko Koivu was often on that line as well, able to provide assist opportunities to Donato. Despite this, though, Donato went from his highest average minutes in the NHL to his lowest, almost five full minutes less on average over the course of 62 games in 2019-20 with 10:38, and he was a healthy scratch seven times throughout the shortened season.
During the season Donato still scored 23 points with 14 goals and displayed his aptitude with the puck on his stick. He ranked fifth on the Wild roster with a near 15% shooting percentage. The only players ahead of him were Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Zach Parise and Zuccarello. The nearest player ahead of him with average time-on-ice was Zucker, who averaged nearly 16 minutes per game.
Donato has shown that he has the skills to be an effective top-six NHL forward, it’s just a matter of him now finding that space and doing it consistently to stay in that part of the lineup.
Statistical information courtesy of HockeyReference.com unless otherwise noted.