BRIGHTON -- With the depth that the Bruins have at forward, you knew a pretty good player would get kicked upstairs as a healthy scratch once the B's got healthy.
With both Rick Nash and Sean Kuraly appearing to be ready for Game 1 on Thursday night, it looks like 21-year-old Ryan Donato will sit out the playoff opener. Donato was a spare forward during Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and afterwards Bruce Cassidy confirmed that he may be the one who won't play.
“Let’s say Rick Nash [plays]," said Cassidy. "He’s a power-play guy in front and he did very well there for us, and very well there for New York and Columbus. So we’re not worried about any dropoff there. He’s going up with [David] Krejci and we like [Jake] DeBrusk back there, so now Ryan was on that line on his off side. So there is a very proven [player in Nash] and that’s where Ryan loses his spot.
“Now you go down the lineup and we like our fourth line. So now it’s a question of is it him, [David] Backes and [Danton] Heinen, or [Noel] Acciari if [Tommy] Wingels goes in. So that’s the next phase of it.
“Then the last part of it is how many young guys go in the lineup at once where we sustain our level of play because it’s the second season. So we factor all of those in.
"Now [being scratched] for Game 1 doesn’t mean [it’s also] for Game 2. It could change in a hurry. We’ve talked to a number of guys about that may or may not be in. They may be disappointing, but they need to make sure that they’re ready to go. This lineup isn’t set in stone.”
The issue really is about where Donato would fit given the Bruins’ current state. Clearly they have some trepidation about plugging Donato in as a third-line center with the expectation that Riley Nash (upper body) isn’t going to play in Game 1, and it looks like Acciari might be the guy that gets that job. If that happens then it becomes a choice between Donato and either DeBrusk or Heinen, or a choice of picking Donato over Wingels in more of a fourth-line role in the playoffs.
DeBrusk and Heinen have earned their spots with Heinen, in particular, picking things up over the last few weeks, and it certainly doesn’t feel like a skilled, inexperienced rookie like Donato would be a good on a fourth line in the playoffs.
It’s a little bit of an eyebrow-raiser given that Donato had five goals and nine points in his 12 games with the Bruins since signing out of Harvard, and has been a noticeable factor around the net on the power play as well. Donato said he understood the situation if indeed he is sitting for the first game of the playoffs, and, as a first-year player, he’ll treat it as a learning experience for when he does get his shot in the postseason.
“I just come with a positive attitude," he said. "Obviously it’s tough joining on [a team] at the end of the season and they’ve been doing great without me. I’m just going to keep working hard, and whenever my number is called I’ll be ready to go. I don’t take it as an insult. I just take it as a 50-win team that’s been great all year. I wouldn’t take that personally.”
As Cassidy himself said, it also doesn’t mean that the Bruins won’t be going right back to Donato in Game 2 if there’s an injury, or one of other rookies doesn’t look ready for prime time, or if the offense struggles for the Bruins during the opening night of the postseason. So let’s not quite paint Cassidy as a Claude Julien-like figure shunning his young hockey talent if, indeed, Donato starts his Bruins playoff career as a healthy scratch on Thursday night.