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.   


Bruins' David Backes barely escapes serious injury in taking skate blade to the face

AP Photo

Bruins' David Backes barely escapes serious injury in taking skate blade to the face

BOSTON – It seems like David Backes has been a magnet for high sticks this season and the 34-year-old has also missed time with a concussion as well.

The bad luck streak continued for him on Tuesday night when Backes caught an errant skate blade to the face in the first period as Oliver Ekman-Larsson kicked up his skates aside the Arizona net. He immediately sprinted off the ice toward the Bruins dressing room while covering his bloody face with his hand.  

True to hockey player form, Backes returned and played 15:31 of ice time with three shot attempts, three hits and went 4-for-10 in the face-off circle while toughing it out with a face full of stitches.

“I didn’t know what happened at first, but the way [Backes] came off you figured it was worse than a high stick. Sure enough. Those are tough, up around your eyes too, but he was able to play through it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I’m sure he’ll be sore tomorrow. Charlie [McAvoy] too got a high stick under the visor, so he’s had some tough luck recently, but he’s battling through it. It was a bit like our game [against the Coyotes]. It wasn’t pretty, but we got through it.”

Backes didn’t discuss his close call with the media following the Bruins win, but was spotted walking out of TD Garden with a stitched up slice next to his nose, but thankfully far from his neck, his eyes or anywhere else where the blade could have done major damage. Instead Backes will just add to the character of a 34-year-old face that’s seen its share of bumps and bruises over the course of a long NHL career. 

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Krejci relishes his chance to produce with Bruins' top line

AP Images

Krejci relishes his chance to produce with Bruins' top line

BOSTON – All it took was a move up to the Bruins' top line in place of the injured Patrice Bergeron to ignite David Krejci’s offense and playmaking abilities.

Krejci finished with three assists in a 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night and is riding a four-game point streak with two goals and seven points since getting installed with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak last week in the loss to Tampa Bay.

“It’s been fun. Those are two world-class players, so I’m just happy to be on that line and happy to help the team win [some] games,” said Krejci, who has four goals and 23 points in 30 games this season. “I’m just going to try to be in the right time at the right place, so you know, they make things happen. [It’s] so much fun playing with those guys. So [I’m] just filling in for Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] and happy I can help the team win games.”

Before then, the Bruins were trying to get by with Colby Cave, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson or Joakim Nordstrom in between the two star scorers and there were mixed results with each of them.

Once it was clear something wasn’t right with the health of Jake DeBrusk, however, it became inevitable that B’s would create a super line with Marchand, Krejci and Pastrnak. And it’s coincided with the B's offense enjoying some of their best scoring games since Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron went down with injuries.

“Obviously it took a couple games, but, you know, today all we needed to do was drive to the net with [David Krejci]. He’s a great playmaker. It’s been fun tonight,” said Pastrnak, who was then asked if Krejci is a “pass-first” kind of player. “[Krejci] is a pass-first player, pass-second player, [pass] third, and then he shoots type of player.

“Bergy and Marchy like to play fast, and Krech likes to slow it down sometimes, you know, and it’s...both of [those styles] work, you know? Some nights it works better if you play fast and some nights it works better if you play slower. It’s just two star players and it’s been fun tonight, and obviously, it was a big game.”

Certainly, the chemistry is building with two Davids and a Brad Line. That was obvious by the tic-tac-toe passing that led to each of their goals with Marchand finishing on a couple of chances right around the net. The best of the bunch was the dish from Krejci through a couple of defenders to a wide open Marchand, who buried the shot and then was run over by a Coyotes defender far too late to the party.

That’s been part of the challenge the past few games for No. 46 to generate the offense, but also play the two-way game required when centering Marchand and Pastrnak. That means taking the big face-offs late in the game when there isn’t  No. 37 around to do it and pretty much doing whatever is required for the win.

“He slows the game down when he’s allowed to see the game quicker than everyone else, can make those plays when it looks like they’re closing off. He did it tonight, and we needed it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Let’s face it. We need those guys to be our best players every night and offensively they’ve come through for us as of late. He’s an offensive guy, so when the puck goes in the back of the net and they’re making plays.

“He makes nice plays, creative plays. He’s going to enjoy the game. I’ve noticed in the rest of his game he’s digging in. He knows he has to be a good defensive center for those guys. They’re creative wingers that will leak out of their spots from time to time to anticipate a play. That’s when you have to have a centreman, and that’s when Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron] so good at putting out those fires.”

Now, it’s Krejci’s job to put out some fires and generate some offense in one of the most coveted gigs in the NHL - centering big-time scorers Marchand and Pastrnak. It’s been so far, so good with nothing but wins and offensive production in each of the three full games that the three forwards have played together since last weekend. 


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