By: Matthew Cunha
From Harvard, to South Korea (Team USA), to Harvard, and now to the Boston Bruins, it has been a busy year for new Bruins winger Ryan Donato. The finalist for best NCAA hockey player of the year, and son of former bruin and Harvard coach Ted Donato, signed a two year entry-level contract with the Bruins Sunday afternoon. Ryan scored a goal, added two helpers, and scored another Wednesday night (as of the end of the 1st).
As the postseason nears, he could be a Tyler Seguin esque X-factor for the Bruins during their run to hoist Lord Stanley.
In the Bruins Stanley Cup run in 2011, Seguin was implemented into the lineup in the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning due to an injury to Patrice Bergeron. In his first two postseason games, Seguin scored 3 goals and added 3 assists. After losing game one and trailing 2-1 entering the second, Seguin scored twice and had two assists in the 2nd period to help give the B’s a 6-3 lead. They want on to win the game and eventually the series and the Stanley cup.
If not for Seguin being the fill in for Bergeron, rather than a veteran type player like Brian Gionta, it is likely the Bruins go down 2-0 vs Tampa Bay on home ice. The Bruins came back twice for 2-0 deficit in the 2011 cup run, but without Bergeron it would have been a whole different beast. Tyler Seguin was needed. The 2011 Cup may have never happened without him. Ryan Donato could be that go for the Bruins in 2018.
Just like Seguin in 2011, an ideal world would not have Donato touch the ice in the playoffs. With the toughness of the NHL playoffs, there will be injuries. Donato gives the Bruins a top-6, goal scoring option off the bench rather than a bottom 6 veteran type of guy like Brian Gionta or Tommy Wingels. If Marchand goes down, filling in Donato next to Bergeron and Pasta sounds way more appealing than his Team USA teammate Brian Gionta without touching the skill sets and chemistry of the other lines.
I said before that Donato could be trade bait for the Bruins if he had a successful appearance at the Olympics for Team USA. His play exceeded my expectations and made me regret my words. Donato tied for the lead in goals among all Olympians with five goals in five games and led Team USA with six points. His strong play for USA, along with the Bruins injuries, landed him on the Bruins skipping his senior season and killing a year of his contract.
Donato will be a restricted free agent after next season the instant he plays a second for the Bruins. It is easy to question that move for the Bruins, but I think it speaks to the comfort and confidence the Bruins organization has in Donato. Ryan was a 2nd round draft pick (56th overall) in the 2014 NHL draft before he ever played a game for Harvard. Donato scored 60 goals and added 44 assists during his three seasons for 104 points for the Crimson.
He is the real deal. That’s why I am ok with the Bruins burning a year of his contract just like I was when the Bruins did it last year with Charlie McAvoy. If he can help the Bruins make a deep run in any way, even as a depth luxury, screw the one year of his contract. McAvoy, who was also in Boston at BU, brought instant dividends. Unlike McAvoy, Donato will get a chance to catch his stride before the playoffs with injuries to Bergeron, DeBrusk, and Backes.
Coach Bruce Cassidy and GM Don Sweeney have made the right calls regarding managing their young players time and time again this season. There is zero reason to doubt them mishandling Donato. Especially considering his Bruins routes, and with his proximity at Harvard the past three seasons.
When everyone gets healthy, Donato will likely get to watch the postseason from the boxes of the TD Garden. Unless of course he really dazzles. BUT, just as Tyler Seguin was in 2011, Donato’s lurking presecnese around the TD Garden in April and May could propel the B’s the extra step if the grueling postseason knocks down one of the Bruins stars.