With some college hockey players, there is going to be a shred of uncertainty with their draft teams about whether or not that player will end up in their organization.
Whether it’s Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes or Blake Wheeler, there are more than a handful of examples of prominent college players that ended up eschewing the team that drafted them for free agency once their NCAA careers had finished. It’s a part of the CBA and it will always be a legit worry for players that outperform their draft status while in college, and that’s the way it will continue to be even as most players end up signing with their draft teams as Notre Dame winger Anders Bjork did with the B’s a couple of months ago.
One player that the Bruins aren’t going to have to worry about when it comes to this situation is Harvard University forward Ryan Donato - for obvious reasons. Donato is the son of a Bruins player, he grew up a Bruins fan and his longtime hockey idol happens to wear No. 37 in Black and Gold.
“This is what kind of guy Patrice Bergeron is. . . he was around the house a little bit when I was a little kid and he was a rookie in the NHL,” said Donato, whose dad was in his final NHL season with the Bruins in that 2003-04 campaign when Bergeron was the youngest player in the league. “I hadn’t seen him for a pretty long time, and then he saw me in Foxboro [at the summer pro league] a couple of years ago and said ‘Hey Ryan, how’s it going?’
“That’s pretty cool when your idol and the player you most look up to can remember you like that. It says a lot about him as a person, and we know what he’s all about as a player. He’s just a great guy…one of the best.”
So you put all of that together and spurning the Bruins organization is something that will likely never cross his mind. Instead, the 21-year-old Donato is coming off a sophomore season where he popped in 21 goals and 40 points in 36 games for the Crimson, and topped it off by truly standing out during Bruins development camp earlier this month.
“I just want to make sure I’m ready to go. If I ever have a chance to play [in the NHL], I just want to make sure I’m ready,” said Donato when describing his decision-making process about when it will be ‘time’ at Harvard. “[My dad] has never led me wrong once in my entire career and in my entire life, so I really don’t think I have to worry about what he says. Whatever he says I take it very seriously and it goes heavily into my consideration.
“I understand [the Vesey option], but I don’t think it’s applicable to me in my situation. Growing up in Boston I’ve always been a Bruins fan, and I’ve been very happy and fortunate to a part of this [organization] and hopefully I can be for a while. Obviously, I had loyalty even before given that I was a fan, but you really feel like you do owe the organization something after they’ve drafted you.”
Donato and Bjork were consistently the best forwards during the week of B’s prospect camp, and Donato has taken a major leap forward with his skating, his size and strength and his ability to dominate with the puck on his stick. The hands and skating game are high level, and the maximum effort expended at all times is very reminiscent of the way his dad Teddy approached the game during his 796-game NHL career.
Clearly, the Bruins have always thought highly of him above and beyond his obvious connections to the organization, and that’s why he was a second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Now Donato is beginning to ripen as an NHL prospect, and the Black and Gold management group can see into the near future when he’ll be pushing for a job. The new wrinkle for this season will be playing at Harvard with his younger brother, and moving to the center position after playing the past two NCAA seasons on the wing.
It will be an interesting spot for a kid in Donato that’s already got a wicked shot and release, and routinely beat the goaltender prospects at B’s camp once he aimed and fired on net.
“We’ve always thought Ryan’s skillset was excellent. He’s going to play center this year and I’ve talked to Teddy [Ted Donato] about that. We’re excited to see him play there. He had played a lot of that at Dexter [School]. It puts a lot more responsibility; more two-way responsibility on him,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “It’ll be interesting because he’s a primary shooter and he has an unbelievable release. There aren’t a lot of shooting center men in the National Hockey League.
“But Joe Sakic scored an awful lot of goals. So players that have that skillset, he can complement better players and I think that’s what we’re excited about. We’ll just continue to communicate year by year with where Ryan feels he’s at. But, he is [supported] by his family and he’ll make the best decision. I think he’s awfully close [to being ready].”
While it’s a done deal Donato is headed back to Cambridge for his junior season on the campus with the wicked smart kids, it wouldn’t surprise anybody if he’s getting his feet wet as a pro by the end of this upcoming season. It might be a year or two, but it will certainly be all kinds of right to once again see the last name “Donato” emblazoned on the back of a Bruins sweater in the near future.