BRIGHTON, Mass – In a move that has been a few weeks in the making, rookie winger Ryan Donato has been sent to the Providence Bruins where he can work on his game after hitting a rough patch at the NHL level.
The 22-year-old Donato has one goal in 11 games for the Bruins this season, and that goal arrived in the second game of the regular season in a road win over the Buffalo Sabers. Since then he’s gone nine straight games without a point, including having a goal called back against the Canadiens last weekend when Montreal won a coach’s challenge that the play was off-sides.
There were high hopes for Donato headed into this season after he finished last year with five goals and nine points in the final 12 games of the regular season after opting to leave Harvard University early to sign with the Bruins. But it’s been clear that Donato has struggled at times in the size and strength department with the NHL-level physicality, and needs some pro experience in order to improve his play away from the puck.
Bruce Cassidy made specific mention of Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk after Thursday’s practice, and the gains they’ve made playing away from the puck even if they don’t have their scoring touch right now.
“You see guys like Danton [Heinen] and [Anders] Bjork that aren’t scoring, but they’re plus players. So they’re growing their game away from the puck and they’re not hurting us, so that’s a sign of maturity for those players,” said Cassidy, who was conspicuous in not mentioning Donato when he talked about the young forwards. “They’re not betting the farm every time they go out on the ice just to get a goal or two. I like that. It’s a credit to the leadership group and it’s a credit to them for accepting that and making sure they have their ‘B’ game if they don’t have their ‘A’ game.
“We’re working every day with those guys [offensively] but I like the fact they’re not hurting us away from the puck. That’s part of progress. To assume they’re not going to score after 12 games isn’t appropriate for us. You need to figure out why, whether it’s being heavier in the O-zone or being able to separate from defenders.”
Ryan Donato, on the other hand, has been a minus-4 in the 11 games he’s played and has made some youthful mistakes in all three zones.
The bottom line with Donato, however, is that he’s going to need to score in order to stick at the NHL level, and he wasn’t doing that despite power play time and a role that was mostly top-9 among the forward group this season. The real issue with the Bruins is that they remain short one veteran top-9 forward that can score, play two-way hockey and ease some of the offensive pressure on Boston’s top forwards.
They wouldn’t need to have asked so much of young, inexperienced players like Donato if they’d been able to sign, or trade, over the summer for a winger that can play on one of the top three lines.
The B’s have Lee Stempniak still skating with the Bruins as a veteran tryout option if they decide to go that route, but it’s going to be difficult to find a veteran skill forward at this early point in the season to offset some of their overwhelming youth on the wings.
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