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Zulgad: Ryan Donato continues to show he’s never afraid to take his shot

ST. PAUL — The three significant trades Paul Fenton has made since becoming the Wild’s general manager have provided mixed results.

The first, which sent winger Nino Niederreiter to Carolina for center Victor Rask on Jan. 17, looks like it could end up being Fenton’s Brock for Broglio.

Other than the fact he plays center and provided some salary-cap relief, Rask looks like a bust and it’s hard to figure what Fenton saw in him. He has one goal and one assist in 13 games since joining Minnesota, and missed 12 because of a lower body injury. That was after he had one goal and five assists in 26 games with the Hurricanes. Niederreiter had only nine goals and 14 assists in 46 games with the Wild — he also was a minus-11 — but has played on a top line in Carolina and has 11 goals and 11 assists in 25 games. He also is a plus-6.

Fenton also made a deal at the trade deadline on Feb. 25 that shipped winger Mikael Granlund to Nashville for winger Kevin Fiala. Granlund entered Saturday with a goal and three assists in six games with the Predators. Fiala has three points in nine games with the Wild, including two goals in a shootout loss on March 5 in Nashville. Fenton played a major role in drafting Fiala in Nashville and is confident the 22-year-old can return to his 23-goal form of last season.

Five days before making that trade, Fenton dealt winger Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins for winger Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2019.

That deal has produced immediate results.

Rask looks like he will never get started in Minnesota, Fiala has gotten off to a slow start and the 22-year-old Donato has made an impact with the exact type of play this franchise needs. Donato doesn’t have Coyle’s size — Donato is 6-feet, 193 pounds; Coyle is 6-3, 218 pounds — but he has what Coyle lacked. Namely, a deadly snap shot that he isn’t afraid to use and speed that gets him into position quickly.

Those skills were on display again in the Wild’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center. Donato scored the Wild’s first two goals, snapping the puck past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 4 minutes, 40 seconds of the first period, and then breaking a 1-1 tie by tipping in Luke Kunin’s shot for his 10th goal of the season at 16:05.

That gave Donato four goals and seven assists in 12 games with Minnesota, and even got Donato a handshake from owner Craig Leipold, who made a rare appearance in the postgame locker room. Coyle, 27, had another scoreless night in the Bruins’ 2-1 overtime victory over Columbus and has one goal and one assist in 11 games playing for his hometown team.

“He loves to shoot the puck,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of Donato. “That’s his thing. He’s not dilly-dallying around. He gets it and he wants to shoot it. He’s an offensive guy.”

Donato said he classifies his shot as both a snap and wrist shot. “I pull it in a little bit just to change it off angle, so it could be kind of a wrist,” he said, “but then I kind of snap it off just to try to be as quick as possible once I bring it into that shooting range. So, I think it’s kind of a little bit of both.”

Donato works year-round on keeping his shot as sharp as possible. His father, Ted, a former NHLer who coached Ryan at Harvard, encouraged his son to begin working on his shot early and often. Ryan said he will shoot 200 to 500 pucks a day during the summer to maintain the accuracy and quickness of his shot, adding, “you can’t get enough.”

“That was something since I’ve been a little kid working on that shot,” said Donato, a second-round pick of his hometown Bruins in 2014. “Usually, I’d put a little pile of pucks and pull them out of the pile. That’s what my dad always said, ‘Pull them out of the pile and shoot it. Pull it out of the pile and shoot it.’ That’s what I did and I think that worked out in the long run.”

While he was from Boston, Donato found himself spending much of this season playing for the Bruins’ minor-league affiliate in Providence. Donato was a teammate of Jordan Greenway’s on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team before joining the Bruins late last season and getting five goals and four assists in 12 regular-season games.

But Donato had played in only 34 games for the Bruins — he had six goals and three assists — and was in Providence when he found out he was headed to Minnesota.

“I keep on saying it’s a blessing in disguise,” he said of the trade. “Obviously, nobody expects or wants to be traded, especially from their home city. But at the end of the day I wanted to be an NHL player, and Minnesota has given me a chance to do that. I’m not going to try to give up on that opportunity at all. I want to make sure I come every day prepared and ready to work and hopefully help the team win.”

Donato is no jeopardy of having to make the trek to play for the Wild’s team in the American Hockey League in Iowa. He opened Saturday’s game on a line with Rask and Pontus Aberg — not exactly a plum assignment — and still was one of the Wild’s best players.

Donato had two assists in his first game as a member of the Wild on Feb. 21 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. He also attempted nine shots in the win, proving immediately that he had no issues with putting the puck on net. That began a stretch in which he had two goals and five assists in his first five games with Minnesota. That included the overtime-winner — with that quick release — in a 2-1 victory on Feb. 24 against the Blues.

Much like the Wild, Donato cooled after his hot start and he had only two assists in his previous six games before Saturday. Both of those came in Minnesota’s 3-0 victory last week at NHL-leading Tampa Bay. That was followed by losses to Florida, San Jose and Dallas.

The Wild entered Saturday’s game in desperation mode, having fallen one spot out of the playoff race in the Western Conference. Minnesota did not catch eighth-place Arizona, but it remained close to the Coyotes with 10 games remaining in the regular season.

That was thanks in part to Donato, who had a chance to complete a hat trick in the second period with a few good chances and ended with a game-high six shots. That gives him two goals and two assists in two games against a Rangers team he grew up cheering against as a kid in Boston.

“Yeah, an Irish kid from Boston on (almost) St. Patrick’s Day,” he said when asked about his success against the Blueshirts. “For us, it was a great win.”


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