RALEIGH, North Carolina – With the news that the Bruins have signed Wisconsin sophomore first round pick Trent Frederic to a three-year entry level, the next name on that docket will be that of Harvard University junior Ryan Donato.
The Crimson star has prolonged his NCAA career with a star performance in the ECAC quarterfinals scoring his third hat trick of the season, this one coming last weekend against Dartmouth in the clincher that punched Harvard’s ticket for the next round. Donato and Harvard will head to Lake Placid for this weekend’s ECAC semi-finals where the Crimson will take on Clarkson on Friday night, and are in territory where they need to win their own conference tournament in order to get into the NCAA’s Frozen Four tournament.
So Donato could be done with his college hockey season at any point this weekend, or another star turn by him could prolong his collegiate career by another week or two. The bottom line with Donato, however, is that it’s expected he is going to sign with the Bruins once Harvard’s season has finally concluded, and he will join Frederic in graduation from college prospect to bona fide professional hockey player.
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It’s been nothing short of an amazing season for Donato where he’s scored 26 goals in 28 games for the Crimson to go along with 41 points, and he was Team USA’s most dangerous offensive player during the Olympic tournament PyeongChang. He’s impressed everybody that’s watched him, and truth be told probably would have turned pro last spring if this season wasn’t a chance to A) play a year of college hockey with his younger brother Jack Donato and B) participate in the Olympics with the NHL skipping participation this time around.
Donato and Anders Bjork were head and shoulders better than everybody else at last summer’s Bruins Development Camp, and the 21-year-old has impressed current Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy when he’s worked with him in the past.
“He was a hungry guy around the net. He reminded me of the [Brad Marchand] types and the [John Tavares] types that want to get to the net and score, and will fight through with a dog-on-the-bone mentality to score goals,” said Bruce Cassidy of the B's second round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. “Watching him at the Olympics in the little bit that I saw, now he’s shooting the puck past the goalie. What I mean by that is that now he’s got a legit NHL release and shot.
“Now he scores around the net and from a bit of a distance, and that’s what you see with the goal-scoring part. At [development] there’s not a lot of scrimmaging, so what you don’t see is a lot of the small details where you have to go on hearsay. Then you’ll have the eye test eventually when he’s here. But he sure looks like he’s got the compete [level] to be a goal-scorer in professional hockey, and hope that plays out only time will well.”
So what happens when Donato signs with the Bruins, which is almost a foregone conclusion at this point?
It could go in one of a couple of different directions based on what Donato is open to: The 21-year-old could sign an ELC with the Bruins based on Boston burning the first year of his contract this spring, and that would mean he’d stick around with the NHL club. Any expectations from Bruins fans that Donato would make a big impact with the Bruins this spring, a la Charlie McAvoy last year, certainly looks to be a major leap of faith.
The Bruins wouldn’t go out and sign a veteran player like Brian Gionta at the trade deadline if they had designs on Donato coming in and making a big impact this spring. Not to mention the Bruins already have strong-looking rookies in Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk in top-9 winger positions, and adding another rookie to that mix would be a bit too much young and experience in late season situations.
It could play out more like Torey Krug during the 2011-12 season when he signed and hung around with the NHL team, made a couple of cameo appearance for the Bruins at the end of the season and never really played otherwise for a team coming off a Stanley Cup-winning season. That would unfortunately mean Donato wouldn’t be eligible for the P-Bruins just as McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson weren’t at the end of last season after signing with the Bruins.
The other option for Donato would be simply going pro and reporting to Providence, enjoying the development time this spring while getting a head start on training camp next and season and serving as a possible Black Ace option for the Black and Gold should injuries really make them desperate for another body up front during this spring’s playoff run.
This would undoubtedly be the best for Donato’s development at this point in his career and the safest path for the Bruins to go with a young college hockey winger that may need some AHL development time just as Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork clearly did over the last couple of seasons. Either way it would be a tad overeager for anybody to look at a Donato signing in the next few weeks as something that’s going to have any kind of tangible impact on Boston’s future playoff run this spring.