ST. PAUL -- It doesn’t matter where Ryan Donato gets put in the Minnesota Wild lineup. All he does is score. It’s what he’s done his entire life.
He proved that again during Tuesday’s 5-4 home victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, netting the puck from in front of the goal while being dragged down to the ice.
He has 12 goals this season, and leads the Wild with an average of 1.36 goals per 60 minutes. Yet, somehow, he still finds himself in the bottom half of the lineup most nights.
It’s nothing personal, according to interim coach Dean Evason, who heaped praise on Donato when asked about him earlier this week.
“It’s a learning process,” Evason insisted. “He’s just a young guy that hasn’t gone through the process.”
In other words, Donato needs to work on becoming a more complete player, using his offensive skills to his advantage while continuing to refine his defensive skills on a nightly basis.
“He’s obviously got natural talent to score goals,” Evason said. “He’s got to commit to the areas below the blue line and get pucks out, and stay below pucks in key points in games. He’s learning that process. And it is a process. He’s done great with it.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing is that Donato hasn’t complained at all.
While he has to be frustrated with his playing time, he has remained accessible in the locker room, willing to answer any question reporters might have for him.
Most recently, Donato smiled as he credited linemates Mikko Koivu and Ryan Hartman with helping him continue to improve his game on a nightly basis, his frustration nowhere to be found.
“We are (building) chemistry,” Donato said. “It’s nice to just play a simple game and get rewarded for it.”
In that same breath, Donato joked that it’s intimidating playing with Koivu, whose stoic demeanor has become his calling card over his 1,000-game NHL career.
“He’s a very serious guy,” Donato said. “That’s the way he is. You’ve just got to take his advice and do exactly what he says because he knows the drill. He’s been around long enough, and if I want to be around like him, he’s the type of guy I need to listen to.”
If Donato keeps scoring at this rate, it’s safe to assume Koivu isn’t going to mind him being around.
New middle man
For most of his up-and-down career, Alex Galchenyuk has considered himself a winger.
Which is why his recent move to center has been so impressive. It’s a small sample size, but Galchenyuk has turned some heads as the man in the middle.
“We like how heavy he’s playing the game,” Evason said. “You see him finishing checks and see him outmuscling people for loose pucks down in our zone. We just like how heavy he’s playing in the right areas and not cheating to get out. We really like him there.”
That type of versatility is something Galchenyuk prides himself on.
“For me, I played left wing, center and even right wing,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge to go out there and be successful at center.”
Trade deadline relief
While the stress of the trade deadline was palpable across the NHL, Evason was proud of the way his players continued to go about their business.
“Even if they felt it, they didn’t show it,” he said. “That’s a good thing for the team.”
That said, Evason acknowledged that it probably does take some pressure off his players, making a playoff push in the Western Conference more attainable.