Bruins

Faster, stronger Ryan Donato a favorite to win a Bruins' forward spot

Faster, stronger Ryan Donato a favorite to win a Bruins' forward spot

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s not a lock until the puck drops opening night on Oct. 3, but it certainly looks like Ryan Donato is going to start this season just as he finished last year. That means Donato will be suiting up for the Bruins in a top-9 winger role where his offensive skills and natural hockey instincts can be used as a big asset for the Black and Gold.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising given that Donato finished strong with five goals and nine points in 12 regular season games once he’d signed out of Harvard, and then the 22-year-old found his way into the B’s lineup at the end of the playoffs as well. At this point Donato finds himself with a couple of different options dependent on the way the rest of the lineup shakes out, but as it stands now it looks like he’ll be either right wing on David Krejci’s line, or manning his natural left wing spot in a third line role with a center to be named later and David Backes.

It’s interesting that the Bruins shied away from using Donato on the right side during last year’s playoffs, but he’s certainly being viewed in a different light this fall after getting some NHL experience under his belt.

“Some of it is circumstance, right? We’re looking to fill that spot. Danton Heinen has looked really good [on the right side] from what I’ve been told. Those are probably options A and B to play on that right side [with Krejci]. I just think coming in at that time of the year last year, [for Donato] it was ‘get one position down.’ He’s got a little more experience under his belt and with the training he’s put in he’s stronger and faster,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Maybe in tight spaces he’ll be stronger on pucks on that off side. But we’ll see. He’s been fine on both sides.”

Either spot would put him in a good position to create offense, obviously, but the right wing position alongside Krejci and Jake DeBrusk would certainly a little more of a premium spot for a talented, natural goal-scorer.

“One thing about Ryan is that he doesn’t overthink things. He just plays no matter what side of the ice he’s on. His strength is still offense,” said Cassidy. “He’s going to produce there no matter which side he’s on. Donato is a bit of a wild card. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but we like where he’s at. We think that when he’s ‘on’ he can certainly [play a top-6 role]. He’s proven he can score in a short period of time in this league, and he’s doing it again in the exhibition season.”

To Donato’s credit, he’s not taking anything for granted and has the attitude that he needs to win an NHL roster spot with his work in training camp. So far he’s been very good and it’s clear to everybody that the 22-year-old got bigger, stronger and maybe even a little faster over the summer after diligently putting in the work at the B’s practice facility. It was one of Donato’s goals to get in the best position to win a spot on Boston’s roster out of camp and he’s most definitely done that with just three exhibition games left to go in the preseason.

“I trained hard this summer. I think they know my abilities and they know that I trained really hard this summer before coming in to compete for a job,” said Donato. “I’d be cutting myself short if I didn’t believe in my abilities to be a contender for any position on this team. So I want to work hard and hopefully I get to earn a spot.”

With a spot seemingly wrapped up for Donato, the question now becomes whether or not he can produce enough to cement his spot in the top-6, or play a good enough two-way game to be a third liner. If he can score goals and help make the second line a viable offensive force that would take care of one need that this Bruins team clearly had during their second round postseason series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Regular season games are the only proving ground to see whether Donato is a 20-30 goal-scorer or a guy like that Frank Vatrano that teased with flashes without ever actually truly developing at the NHL level. This humble hockey writer is betting more on the former than the latter for Teddy’s oldest boy, but time will tell on all of this for another Donato in Boston.   

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Talking Points: Bruins better, but not good enough vs. McDavid & Oilers

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Talking Points: Bruins better, but not good enough vs. McDavid & Oilers

Here are my biggest takeaways from the Bruins' 3-2 overtime loss in Edmonton on Thursday night:

GOLD STAR: Connor McDavid was held down early in this game, but made the play when it counted in overtime. McDavid picked off a Brad Marchand stretch pass from deep in the Bruins zone during the 3-on-3 overtime, and then moved into the B’s zone with speed before dishing over to Leon Draisaitl for the game-winner in overtime.

In all, McDavid finished with two assists along with eight shot attempts in 24:58 of ice time, one hit, three takeaways and a blocked shot in the home opening win for the Oilers. McDavid certainly didn’t explode on the Bruins with a massive statistical night, but it’s easy to see why putting McDavid and Draisaitl out together for the 3-on-3 overtime session eventually turns into a lot of wins for the Oilers. It took less than a minute for that duo to do their damage in OT on Thursday night.

BLACK EYE: David Backes finished with zero shots on net in 6:28 of ice time after taking a high hit from Matt Benning in the first period that sent him back to the dressing room. Backes returned to the bench for the second period, but clearly wasn’t actually on the ice much for the Bruins following the first period. It looked like there might have been contact to the head/chin area for Backes, and that’s not good for a player that’s missed time over the last few seasons with concussions. Beyond the production for Thursday night’s game, Backes still has zero goals and zero points through seven games this season and continues to look like a player that’s really not going to be able to give the Bruins what they need out of him. For now, though, it’s about Backes’ health and the hope that he comes out of the collision with Benning unscathed.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins fell down 2-1 in the third period on a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins power play goal in the third period, and it could have been one of those moments where they started to let things fall apart in the second night of back-to-back games. Instead, the B’s scratched and clawed their way to tie the game on another David Pastrnak goal midway through the third period to push things into overtime eventually. That allowed the Bruins to at least capture a point for their trouble, and salvage something amid a road trip that’s already proven to be pretty difficult for the Black and Gold. Things fell apart quickly for them in the overtime session, but by that point the one point was already in the bank for the Bruins.

HONORABLE MENTION: It was a pretty good night for David Krejci as he continues to show that he’s finding his game a few weeks into the season, and starting to give the Bruins the secondary scoring they absolutely need. Krejci scored going to the net on a sweet lead pass from Matt Grzelcyk, and has started connecting on a few more offensive plays for a team that’s going to need it from them. He finished with over 20 minutes of ice time, had the goal along with a plus-1 rating, five shot attempts and 7-of-12 face-off wins in a very good all-around effort. Perhaps the Bruins will stick with Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk with Krejci now on the second line, after seeing some good offensive results, and more importantly seeing some life out of the playmaking Krejci’s game.   

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 – the game-high number of registered hits for Chris Wagner, as he continues to set a tone physically for the Bruins when he’s out on the ice.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “A good rebound game. We definitely played better hockey. It wasn’t a very good second period, but the first and the third periods were good. We battled our way back in and got a point, so definitely a better game than [against Calgary].” –Brad Marchand to reporters, on the B’s playing better in an OT loss to Edmonton than they did the previous night against Calgary.  

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Highlights from Bruins' 3-2 OT loss to Oilers

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Highlights from Bruins' 3-2 OT loss to Oilers

FINAL SCORE: Oilers 3, Bruins 2 (OT)

IN BRIEF: Just 37 seconds into the extra frame, Connor McDavid intercepted a Patrice Bergeron breakout pass in the neutral zone and fed Leon Draisaitl on the rush for a thrilling win over Boston. BOX SCORE 

THREE STARS
1 - Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton (1 goal)
2 - Milan Lucic, Edmonton
3 - David Pastrnak, Boston (1 goal)

BRUINS RECORD: 4-2-1, third in Atlantic Division

EDMONTON'S OT WINNER WAS A BEAUT

KREJCI NETS FIRST GOAL OF 2018-19

LUCKY? YOU BE THE JUDGE

OLD TIME HOCKEY

EXTRA SWEET SAUCE FOR PASTA

UP NEXT

SATURDAY: At Vancouver, 10 p.m. ET (NESN)

TUESDAY: At Ottawa, 7:30 ET (NESN)

THURSDAY: Vs. Philadelphia, 7:30 ET (NESN)

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

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