Bruins

With Trent Frederic signed, Ryan Donato becomes next order of B's business

donato_usa_2212018.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

With Trent Frederic signed, Ryan Donato becomes next order of B's business

RALEIGH, North Carolina – With the news that the Bruins have signed Wisconsin sophomore first round pick Trent Frederic to a three-year entry level, the next name on that docket will be that of Harvard University junior Ryan Donato.

The Crimson star has prolonged his NCAA career with a star performance in the ECAC quarterfinals scoring his third hat trick of the season, this one coming last weekend against Dartmouth in the clincher that punched Harvard’s ticket for the next round. Donato and Harvard will head to Lake Placid for this weekend’s ECAC semi-finals where the Crimson will take on Clarkson on Friday night, and are in territory where they need to win their own conference tournament in order to get into the NCAA’s Frozen Four tournament.

So Donato could be done with his college hockey season at any point this weekend, or another star turn by him could prolong his collegiate career by another week or two. The bottom line with Donato, however, is that it’s expected he is going to sign with the Bruins once Harvard’s season has finally concluded, and he will join Frederic in graduation from college prospect to bona fide professional hockey player.

MORE BRUINS:

It’s been nothing short of an amazing season for Donato where he’s scored 26 goals in 28 games for the Crimson to go along with 41 points, and he was Team USA’s most dangerous offensive player during the Olympic tournament PyeongChang. He’s impressed everybody that’s watched him, and truth be told probably would have turned pro last spring if this season wasn’t a chance to A) play a year of college hockey with his younger brother Jack Donato and B) participate in the Olympics with the NHL skipping participation this time around.

Donato and Anders Bjork were head and shoulders better than everybody else at last summer’s Bruins Development Camp, and the 21-year-old has impressed current Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy when he’s worked with him in the past.

“He was a hungry guy around the net. He reminded me of the [Brad Marchand] types and the [John Tavares] types that want to get to the net and score, and will fight through with a dog-on-the-bone mentality to score goals,” said Bruce Cassidy of the B's second round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. “Watching him at the Olympics in the little bit that I saw, now he’s shooting the puck past the goalie. What I mean by that is that now he’s got a legit NHL release and shot.

“Now he scores around the net and from a bit of a distance, and that’s what you see with the goal-scoring part. At [development] there’s not a lot of scrimmaging, so what you don’t see is a lot of the small details where you have to go on hearsay. Then you’ll have the eye test eventually when he’s here. But he sure looks like he’s got the compete [level] to be a goal-scorer in professional hockey, and hope that plays out only time will well.”

So what happens when Donato signs with the Bruins, which is almost a foregone conclusion at this point?

It could go in one of a couple of different directions based on what Donato is open to: The 21-year-old could sign an ELC with the Bruins based on Boston burning the first year of his contract this spring, and that would mean he’d stick around with the NHL club. Any expectations from Bruins fans that Donato would make a big impact with the Bruins this spring, a la Charlie McAvoy last year, certainly looks to be a major leap of faith.  

The Bruins wouldn’t go out and sign a veteran player like Brian Gionta at the trade deadline if they had designs on Donato coming in and making a big impact this spring. Not to mention the Bruins already have strong-looking rookies in Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk in top-9 winger positions, and adding another rookie to that mix would be a bit too much young and experience in late season situations.

It could play out more like Torey Krug during the 2011-12 season when he signed and hung around with the NHL team, made a couple of cameo appearance for the Bruins at the end of the season and never really played otherwise for a team coming off a Stanley Cup-winning season. That would unfortunately mean Donato wouldn’t be eligible for the P-Bruins just as McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson weren’t at the end of last season after signing with the Bruins.

The other option for Donato would be simply going pro and reporting to Providence, enjoying the development time this spring while getting a head start on training camp next and season and serving as a possible Black Ace option for the Black and Gold should injuries really make them desperate for another body up front during this spring’s playoff run.

This would undoubtedly be the best for Donato’s development at this point in his career and the safest path for the Bruins to go with a young college hockey winger that may need some AHL development time just as Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork clearly did over the last couple of seasons. Either way it would be a tad overeager for anybody to look at a Donato signing in the next few weeks as something that’s going to have any kind of tangible impact on Boston’s future playoff run this spring.   

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

MORE BRUINS OFFSEASON

Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

MORE FROM JOE HAGGERTY

Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE