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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Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

The Edmonton Oilers were finally able to move a difficult contract this weekend when they shipped Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal in a rare trade between Battle of Alberta rivals.

Calgary also received a conditional third-round pick in 2020 along with the Oilers retaining 12.5 percent of the remainder of Lucic’s contract, which will see him at a $5.25 million cap hit with the Flames for the next four seasons. The Oilers are rid of the Lucic contract, but they’re still on the hook for four years of Neal, 31, at $5.75 million after he, too, showed serious signs of decline last season with the Flames.

These are the kinds of “no real winner” trades that the Bruins would have to engage in if they wanted to move 35-year-old David Backes in the final years of his contract. Sure, the Backes contract has never been good value and it became something else last season when the power forward’s production dropped to just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games amid concussion issues on top of decreased production.

Lucic, 31, had similar numbers last season with six goals and 20 points in 79 games with the Oilers, and it’s been clear for a couple of seasons that his best days are behind him as one of the NHL’s premier power forwards. The argument could be made, though, that those heavy skating legs might have been energized a bit by a return to Boston and certainly his fighting, snarling game is a little more in line with what the B’s need to protect some of their younger players these days.

Could the Bruins have engineered a similar trade involving Backes with the Oilers to get Lucic back at $5.25 million with Edmonton retaining some salary thus saving the B's almost $1 million cap space the next couple of seasons?

Absolutely.

The question becomes whether it would have been worth it to take on a couple more years of Lucic when Backes is going to be finishing up his deal two seasons from now and becomes a prime buyout candidate at this time next year.

This is why it’s become almost impossible to move Backes. It’s going to be very difficult to find a deal for another problem contract where the B’s aren’t inheriting more years indebted to the player coming back in a trade. Or it’s going to take a first-round pick sweetener for another team to accept the Backes contract along with Boston potentially picking up some of the money.

One of the few remaining players out there the Bruins could potentially swap bad contracts for is old friend Loui Eriksson with the Vancouver. It was Backes who the B’s signed when Eriksson walked in free agency, and the 34-year-old Swedish winger hasn’t come close to repeating his final Boston season while with the Canucks.

Eriksson had 11 goals and 29 points in 81 games for Vancouver last season and has been pretty consistent while averaging 10 goals and 25 points in his three underperforming seasons with the Canucks. Again, though, the Bruins would be taking on one additional season at the $6 million cap hit in 2021-22 if they were to do an even swap of Backes-for-Eriksson if both teams signed off on the one-for-one trade.

Even that doesn’t make sound business sense for the Black and Gold if they can just squeeze one more season of productivity out of Backes as a bottom-six winger willing to stand up for his teammates and show leadership.

What does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins aren’t going to find many, if any, realistic trade scenarios with Backes that are going to help their bottom line on the salary cap. They may just need to make the best out of one more season with No. 42 and then revisit things again next summer when there could be a few more options at their disposal.

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Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

He might not have quite the cachet of Jack Studnicka or Jakub Lauko as an uber-prospect for the Bruins. Just by virtue of not being drafted or playing forward, young goaltender Kyle Keyser is more of a blip on the radar screen as another young B’s player headed into a key developmental year with the organization.

Keyser, like Studnicka and Lauko, didn’t take part in the on-ice portion of this summer’s development camp and only played in a single regular-season game for the Providence Bruins in the AHL at the end of this past season. That came after Keyser, 20, posted a .915 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average in his final regular season with the Oshawa Generals and preceded a run for the young goalie as part of the Black Aces in this spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

“The playoff time in Oshawa was something truly awesome to experience,” said Keyser, who posted a sterling .925 save percentage in Oshawa’s 15-game run through the Memorial Cup playoffs. “Being with those guys in my first long playoff run and the camaraderie of being in a group playing for one another was something special. It was great to be around.”

It’s also something for Keyser to build on as he enters the first season of a three-year, entry-level contract signed with Boston back in Oct. 2017 after the 6-foot-2, 180-pound goalie from Coral Springs, Fla., took part in B’s development camp as a free-agent prospect.

Now is an exceedingly interesting time for the young puck-stopper as the Bruins boasted one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL last season in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Certainly, it was educational for Keyser to get an up-front seat to the way Rask performed while helping bring the B’s all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final with a brilliant couple of months in the postseason.

It’s very likely that will be the same NHL tandem for Boston again this year with Rask and Halak signed for next year and Rask signed for another season at $7 million afterward.

“Being here at the end of the season and being around these guys at playoff time was incredible,” said Keyser, who has essentially been a Black Ace practice goalie with the Bruins in each of their last two postseasons. “Being at the Garden for every game and seeing the atmosphere gives you chills whether it was the first game or the last one.

“Watching Tuukka every single game, everybody saw the performance he put up in the playoffs. Just learning from every single minute with him and watching him as closely as possible, it was an incredible experience. It was probably one of the best goaltending performances that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, and maybe of all time. To witness that in person was something special. You don’t take that for granted.”

One thing not under debate: The role of “goalie of the future” in the Bruins organization is completely up for grabs headed into this season and Keyser will be in that mix.

Certainly, Keyser and Daniel Vladar, 21, will both be competing to be that guy in the AHL next season with free-agent signee Max Lagace around as the veteran mentor. The 6-5 Vladar, coming off a disappointing year where he posted an .898 save percentage in his first full AHL season, is entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Black and Gold.

There’s also Jeremy Swayman further down the organizational depth chart while still in development as the No. 1 goalie for the University of Maine, but he’s years away from potentially pushing into the NHL picture.

All three will get a chance to show they might be worthy of being Rask’s backup in 2020-21 when Halak has presumably moved on, and the B’s are getting much closer to deciding on Tuukka’s future in Boston.

It’s going to be Keyser’s time to step up and push into the Bruins' organizational picture and show that there’s a potential young option for Boston should injuries, or something else, create an NHL goaltending opening. It’s doubtful there would be any kind of scenario, other than injury, that would create a goalie need in Boston this season, but one can’t rule anything out in the long-term future given Boston’s tight salary-cap situation.

It’s the exact kind of opportunity that Keyser is hoping to run with as he enters his first full pro season with the B’s organization.

“To get with the strength and conditioning guys and with the nutrition [staff] is great any time of year, but even more now in the summer when you’re trying to get stronger,” said Keyser. “You’re trying to get stronger and put yourself in the best position to succeed next year. I want to make sure I’m doing everything to make sure I’m fresh and ready to go when next season starts.”

It will be a gigantic, first impression-type season for Keyser next year. Getting through development camp last month was one of the hurdles in getting ready to seize the moment, but there’s a long way to go for Keyser and the rest of Boston’s young goalie crew.

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