Ryan Donato’s first thought was to sprint to the goal line.
“I just wanted to get there first and beat out the icing,’’ the Wild forward said, referring his race to the puck against Columbus defenseman David Savard on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Donato not only beat out that icing, he fired a shot that hit the side of the net, collected the rebound and sent a pass to defenseman Ryan Suter at the top of the circle. Suter’s shot pinballed around, and Donato, with Savard draped all over him, collected the puck and sent a diving backhander past Blue Jackets goalie Matiss Kivlenieks.
That goal, with 47 seconds left in the first period, gave the Wild a 2-1 lead on its way to a 5-4 victory.
“It was definitely cool,’’ Donato said. “… It’s nice to get rewarded.’’
That was the theme of the night for the Wild’s fourth line — center Mikko Koivu and wingers Donato and Ryan Hartman. The trio combined for six points, with Koivu scoring twice, his first goals since Nov. 9, and Hartman adding two assists and Donato one.
“We’re getting chemistry. It’s nice to just play a simple game,’’ Donato said. “A lot of times you play that style and sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. The puck bounced our way.’’
For the 23-year-old Donato, fourth-line duty has meant making the most of his opportunities. His 12 goals in 55 games rank sixth on the team, and he’s contributing while averaging 10 minutes, 35 seconds of ice time — next-to-last among Wild skaters regularly in the lineup.
Interim coach Dean Evason appreciates how Donato, acquired from Boston for Charlie Coyle near the trading deadline last year, has kept a professional attitude while not seeing big minutes. He pointed to the example of teammate Kevin Fiala, another 23-year-old, who spent 121 games developing in the AHL in Nashville’s organization. In contrast, Donato has had to grow in the NHL while playing only 21 AHL contests.
“[Fiala] spent so much time in the minors building up to this point,’’ Evason said. “Donny, I’m not saying he’s happy or accepting it, he’s just going about his business. He prepares the same way every night and if he does that, he gets stronger defensively each and every game.
“He’s obviously got natural talent to score goals,’’ Evason added, “but 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.’’
Part of Donato’s learning process comes from playing with Koivu, the team’s no-nonsense captain who the youngster admitted can be intimidating.
“Yeah, sometimes,’’ Donato said.
“He’s a very serious guy. … You just got to take his advice and just do exactly what he says because he knows the drill. He’s been around long enough, and if you want to be around like him, he’s the type of guy you need to listen to.’’