NEW YORK – Ryan Donato was driving north from Providence, R.I., to Boston to have dinner with his girlfriend, Bradley Fusco and his father, Harvard coach Ted Donato, when he found out the Wild had traded Charlie Coyle for him and a conditional draft pick.
Donato didn’t immediately turn his car around. The three had dinner, then Donato drove back to Providence, where he was playing for the Bruins’ American Hockey League affiliate, got his gear and drove to New York to meet his new teammates. He arrived around 2:30 a.m., but a bleary-eyed Donato was eager Thursday to get a chance to prove himself in the NHL after bouncing around between the Bruins and the AHL this season.
“I’m excited at the opportunity,” Donato said. “At the end of the day, I want to be an NHL player.”
He immediately produced two assists in the Wild’s 4-1 victory over the Rangers.
Donato doesn’t have much time to get comfortable, however, as he parachutes into a team near free-fall and losing ground in the Western Conference playoff race.
To General Manager Paul Fenton, the trade doesn’t mean the Wild is going to have a sell-off before the trade deadline. Fenton was hoping for “a jump, a vault” out of the team while investing in Donato’s future long term.
“I don’t think it takes us down any,” Fenton said.
But, he said, the trade did serve as a message to the rest of the roster.
“You can look at it anyway you want,” Fenton said. “Yes, we have not performed. We have underperformed since we’ve come out of the break. It puts people on notice that it’s not acceptable. We are looking to be a playoff team and Ryan can help us get there.”
Fenton, whose team has lost five in a row, then tried to soften his remarks, specifically the part about the Wild being “on notice.”
“I guess I’m using words that probably shouldn’t have been said in that fashion,” Fenton said. “But I think this time of year regardless, everyone in the National Hockey League knows there’s a lot of things that happen. I’m not putting any one particular person on notice or the team on notice. All I’m trying to do is improve the Minnesota Wild.”
Donato, 22, has 11 goals in 46 AHL games and had seven goals in 18 games with Providence this season. He skated on the third line Thursday with center Joel Eriksson Ek and winger Luke Kunin. To Fenton, Donato is an NHL talent who got lost in the roster numbers game on a talented Boston team.
“There just wasn’t a lot of opportunity,” Donato said. “A lot of guys battling for spots and it just didn’t work out that way for me. I know that I’m a good player and I’m ready for the NHL. In a way, it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s tough leaving Boston, but I’m excited for a new opportunity.”
“He’s going to bring some energy,” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached Ted Donato with the minor league Manchester Monarchs in 2001-02. “He’s got a history of being a skilled player. I’m sure he’s going to come out and work his rear end off, and that’s what we need.”
• J.T. Brown was in Thursday’s lineup after being called up from Iowa of the AHL. He has three goals and three assists in six games there.