Ryan Donato has lined up at center most of his life, but when he broke into the NHL with the Bruins, he did so at left wing because that’s the position Boston needed filled.
Since then, Donato has been regarded as a winger. It’s where the Wild put him after the team acquired him in the Charlie Coyle trade with the Bruins.
But Donato could be getting back to his roots this season.
After debuting up the middle between veteran wingers Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello on Friday during the first practice of training camp, Donato was still in that spot Sunday at TRIA Rink. It continued an audition that — if successful — could ease one of the logjams currently headlining the Wild’s roster.
“When you’re doing these lines in the summer, it sure looked like it might work,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Doing it on the ice and on paper are two different things. But we’ll see how it works out.”
The idea to try out Donato at center came to Boudreau after Donato’s dad, Ted, who played for Boudreau in the American Hockey League, mentioned to Boudreau his son’s history at the position.
With Parise, Jason Zucker, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno all looking like fits on their natural left side and since lefty Kevin Fiala is poised to slot on the right like he did at times last season, center and right wing seem to be the only options for Donato.
By putting Donato at center, that frees up one of the few right shots (Luke Kunin) to play on the right.
“It’s a tough league to be put in at a young age and play center,” Donato said. “But now that I’ve seen what you need to do and being a guy who’s a natural centerman, I think I can do it for sure.”
What stood out about Donato last season was his release; in 22 games, he registered 64 shots and tallied 16 points.
Despite a position change, and the potential to work with two veteran wingers, Donato isn’t planning to tweak his approach.
“I will try to get it off as much as I can,” he said.
And the 23-year-old, who signed a two-year, $3.8 million contract this summer, recognizes he’s getting a terrific opportunity to make this case with Parise and Zuccarello as his linemates.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Donato said. “You’ve got a guy that can play any facet of the game, a guy that’s super experienced with Zach and score goals and really do anything you need him to do. And he’s a teacher, too. He can teach you. I just gotta try to be a sponge around him.
“Zuccs can find you in any space, and he’s one of the most skilled guys I’ve seen. Being able to play with those two guys, I want to make sure I keep up.”
Boudreau is expecting “two solid NHL lines” and 13 regulars to suit up for the Wild’s first preseason game Tuesday against the Stars at Xcel Energy Center.
Backup Alex Stalock is scheduled to be in goal. Kaapo Kahkonen and Mat Robson will take Wednesday’s game in Winnipeg.
Captain Mikko Koivu is slated to scrimmage Monday after being eased into camp as he continues to recover from a torn ACL and meniscus. His first preseason action likely will be next weekend.
The camp roster also will start to shrink drastically this week. Boudreau anticipates only 28 players will make the trip to Colorado ahead of the Wild’s preseason game vs. the Avalanche next Sunday.
• Defenseman Matt Dumba was back on the ice Sunday after sitting out Saturday because he was under the weather.