Bruins

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

In an ideal world the Bruins could have signed highly regarded prospect Ryan Donato to a two-year entry level contract, watched him develop his game deliberately at the AHL level and received two full years of service before the forward hit restricted free agency. 

But that doesn’t take into account the current injury situation for the Boston Bruins with a few weeks to go in the regular season, and it didn’t factor in Donato’s leverage as an NCAA player that could have chosen free agency, or going back to Harvard for his senior year, if he didn’t get what he was looking for in negotiations with the Black and Gold. Clearly it never got to anything approaching a hard ball level between the Bruins and a young player with plenty of B’s background in Donato, and now he’ll get to suit up for Boston and most likely make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

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Once he plays for the Bruins that will burn the first year on his two-year entry level contract, and it will also prohibit him from heading to Providence and playing for the P-Bruins through the rest of the hockey season. It’s the exact same situation Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson found himself in last spring when it was pretty clear after one game in Boston that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL level. 

After Donato makes his debut it will be up to him and how NHL-ready he looks when he jumps into the Boston lineup, but it’s pretty clear they need some more dynamic top-6 bodies with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk all out of the lineup, and Anders Bjork done for the season as well as what could have been a good reserve option at the AHL level. 

None of those players are expected to return in the next couple of games or even in the next week most likely, so there may be an opening for Donato to dazzle if he's prepared to seize the opportunity. 

“Once [Harvard’s season] was over with I had an opportunity to speak with his family advisor and with the family and with Ryan himself. We just worked through what looked like the opportunity he was looking for and we were happy to provide that,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We have some injuries and we’re at the point in the season where every game has a lot on the line. I think his being able to go over and have success at the Olympics this year really started to jumpstart his thought process that he was ready for the next challenge.

“I think Ryan might have looked at [the injuries on the NHL roster] as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as [Monday night]. From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. I think the two things just kind of lined up accordingly. We definitely are cognizant that the injuries are there, and they’ve mounted a little bit here coming down the stretch. It’s a testament to the group of players that we have [that led to the Tampa] win after losing [David] Backes early in the game and guys really playing well.”

Clearly Donato was ready for the next level after dominating college hockey to the tune of 26 goals in 29 games for the Crimson this season, and serving as one of Team USA’s best players in last month’s Olympic hockey tournament. Donato has a high hockey IQ that usually comes along with being the son of an NHL player, has a nose for the net for a young player that isn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the ice and has become a dangerous sniper with his NHL-level shot and release. The question now is whether all of those skills are “plug and play” at the NHL level, or if he’s more in the mold of similar NCAA players like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that needed some development time at the minor league level. 

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details that he’s going to have to work on. All young players do, more importantly the inexperience part of it, but he’s a kid that has hard skill,” said Sweeney. “So we’re looking forward to having him join our team, get immersed, and get a taste, and then it’s up to him. He’ll take it with however far he can run with it, but he is welcomed to the opportunity.

“We’re not going to put any pressure on him to say ‘You have to produce.’ It’s like every player; he’s going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play in situations, and the player himself will dictate how much time and circumstances they play in. We feel that, if we get healthy, we’re going to have a deep group. He’s going to add to that group. Then it’s up to him.”

It would be unfair to expect Donato to have an impact on this Bruins team like Craig Janney did coming out of college thirty years ago, but that’s what many are going to equate it to based on the circumstances. Instead it should be looked at as another talented young player that the Bruins are going to add to their embarrassment of young hockey talent riches, and a player that could possibly help them get through a current tough stretch of injuries and attrition. If Donato does anything more than that then it’s another great story in a Boston Bruins season that’s been chock full of them from beginning to end.

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Riley Nash has made it a season of filling in for Bergeron

Riley Nash has made it a season of filling in for Bergeron

BOSTON – The Bruins have talked glowingly on plenty of occasions about their overall team depth at the NHL level and certainly also about their organizational depth when it comes to being well-represented at all levels of hockey. That NHL roster depth was front and center on Thursday night in Toronto as the B’s effectively shook off a last-minute injury to Patrice Bergeron (upper body) that kept him out of the lineup for Game 4, and managed to overcome with a 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. 

Riley Nash stood as one of the main reasons the B’s came out on top in Game 4 vs. Toronto while filling in at top line center for the absent No. 37 just as he’s done throughout the regular season while helping Boston put up a very unlikely 13-5-2 record this year when Bergeron is injured.

“He’s been a real good player for us. I don’t know if I’d call him an unknown, but he’s a guy that’s really elevated his game this season as it’s went along,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of that has been opportunity. When Bergeron goes out, he has a chance to play with Marchand and Pastrnak. You saw it. He’s done a really good job when we’ve put him in there. He’s had a little bit more of an opportunity to have an offensive role. 

“It’s always been in him, but it’s up to the player to bring it out and it’s up the coaching staff to put him in those positions if the situation dictates and encourage them to do it. I think we’ve met halfway there and it’s worked out well for him.”

Nash didn’t end up on the score sheet for the pivotal Game 4 win, but what he did do what was win an ultra-important D-zone face-off that set up Brad Marchand’s game-winning goal. 

After a long shift, the Bruins were whistled for icing and stuck out there for Nash to take a draw against Auston Matthews in the defensive zone. It appeared to be a pretty good spot for the Leafs, but instead Nash won the draw, Adam McQuaid threw a puck up the boards and David Pastrnak beat a pinching Jake Gardiner to turn it into a 2-on-1 odd-man rush. 

Pastrnak fed Marchand with a no-look dish when everything in the building thought he’d shoot the puck, and Marchand buried a shot that permanently turned the momentum in the game. It was clearly a pivotal play in the game, but it was Nash’s understated, important role in the play that does a good job of representing what he’s meant to the Bruins this season. 

“That was one [face-off] where you just try and battle,” said Nash. “You don’t expect the outcome that we got out of that. “It’s baptism by fire [filling in for Bergeron]. You’re thrown in there and you’ve gotta get it done.”

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Nash put up career highs in goals (15 goals) and points (41 points) during the regular season mostly centering the third line, but he was also the perfect candidate to play the role of poor man’s Bergeron with his strong two-way play, good skill level and smart, efficient style he employs on the ice. That’s something he’s done with aplomb all year, and it gives the Bruins confidence they have an option when their best player has to sit out due to injury. 

Clearly, the B’s aren’t as explosive offensively or as dominant puck possession-wise when Nash is filling in for Bergeron, but it’s tough to argue with the won-loss record when that’s been the case this season.

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DeBrusk sparkles in first steps on postseason stage

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File Photo

DeBrusk sparkles in first steps on postseason stage

TORONTO -- It will go down as the big insurance goal in Boston’s titanic Game 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it was also another stamp on the NHL rookie passport for Jake DeBrusk.

DeBrusk scored his second goal of the postseason finishing off a sweet David Krejci setup on a transition play in the third period of Thursday night’s game, giving the Bruins the insurance goal they needed in a 3-1 victory, and spent the moments afterward thinking about just how fortunate he’s been in this first NHL campaign.

“I knew it was coming the whole time, but the defensemen kind of slid and I saw the puck in the air,” said DeBrusk. “That’s just [Krejci] doing his thing and the next thing I knew the puck was on my tape. I had a wide-open net and I don’t know too many guys that are going to miss that. It was a gritty play by him, and that’s why he’s been who he’s been during his time with the Bruins. He’s a special player and he’s special for me to play with.”

The 21-year-old kid has already passed his old man, former NHL tough guy and current Canadian TV analyst Louie DeBrusk, in career NHL playoff points, and is on a team that’s one game away from advancing to the second round. For the Bruins, the two goals in four playoff games has been solid production from a youngster who's been arguably the best player on his forward line to this point in the series.

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Actually, it’s not much of an argument. DeBrusk has been the best player on his line to date, and that means he’s been leading the way for much bigger names like Krejci and Rick Nash in a playoff run where the Bruins will need more overall from their second line.

“It’s nice . . . to see these young guys enjoying the moment,” said coach BruceCassidy. “We saw it with Charlie [McAvoy] last year. They’re learning how to play winning hockey in April, and hopefully into May and June. That’s the idea. Because they’re in the lineup and we trust them to play ‘X’ number of minutes, [and] that’s what’s going to be required for us to be successful.

“They certainly don’t have to lead our team, and we’re not relying on them every night to lead our team. But just do your part, play hard and play well, play the right way this time of year and you’ll get opportunities to grow. Jake is finding it a bit offensively. The puck is finding him. It was a great play by Krejci and he had a couple of good looks. It’s working out well for him, and we’re going to need it because we can’t rely on just one line to score all our goals.”

For a hockey nut like DeBrusk, this is “pinch me” territory.

“I think I’m settling in okay. I enjoy it,” said DeBrusk, who led the Bruins with seven hits in a physical, board-battle filled effort that ended with his nifty finish around the net in the final period. “I like the physical intensity and everything [the playoffs] brings: The noise, the energy and pretty much everything about it. It’s what you play for.

"I’m really lucky to have this opportunity in my rookie year and on this team, and where I am in the lineup. I understand that as well so I’m just trying to enjoy every moment of it. You don’t really enjoy it when you lose, but you sure do when you win.”

If it turns out to be a long playoff run, there will certainly be other chances for different rookies to have their moments; there are so many of them on the B’s, ranging from McAvoy to Danton Heinen to Matt Grzelcyk to Sean Kuraly and even to Ryan Donato, who's currently out of the lineup. But it’s DeBrusk who's the rookie with the most veteran-like game who's off to a fast start in the postseason, and really seizing the rare rookie opportunity being given to him by the Bruins right now.

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