By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Three years have passed since the Bruins drafted Ryan Donato in the second round (56th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft, but the organization is being patient with the speedy forward’s development.
Despite his 40 points (21 goals, 19 assists) in 36 games for Harvard last season, Donato is scheduled to return to the Crimson for his junior season unlike so many prospects (including the Bruins’ Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen) that have left school early for the pros.
“We’ve always thought Ryan’s skill-set was excellent. He’s going to play center this year and I’ve talked to [Harvard coach Ted Donato] about that. We’re excited to see him play there,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Sunday. “He had played a lot of that at Dexter [School]. It puts a lot more responsibility, more two-way responsibility on him. It’ll be interesting because he’s a primary shooter and he has an unbelievable release. There aren’t a lot of shooting centermen in the National Hockey League. But Joe Sakic scored an awful lot of goals. So players that have that skill-set, 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.”
Donato showed how close he is by standing out during the Bruins’ four-day development camp over the weekend at Warrior Ice Arena. The speed and hands seem NHL-ready, and he’s put on 20 pounds (up to 6 feet, 191 pounds) since his draft year. It’s quite amazing to hear Donato talk about how patient he is without blowing smoke about what getting an education means or what it means to play for his father and with his brother (Jack will be a freshman for the Crimson this season).
Those things are important, but the biggest thing is getting him ready to be a pro.
With the mostly weekend-only game schedule and plenty of time to work out, Donato’s been getting his body NHL-ready. He wants to come out of school a finished product rather than someone who might get run over and not fulfill his potential.
“I think that’s one of the greatest parts of college hockey — not only do you get the hard-nosed play where you’re playing against men all the time, but you’re also training all the time and you have time to heal your body and you have time to work out,” he said. “And eventually you’ll get into this level, into the NHL or the AHL, and you’ll perform and your body will maintain itself and you’ll know the tips and tools and how to work out and eventually you’ll have some success in the pros.”
Donato, a native of Scituate, is thinking long-term about his development.
“I think if I can do my best to get myself best prepared for not just hopefully making the NHL but trying to make a career out of it, I don’t want to just jump in there when I’m not ready,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m 100 percent ready to go.”
There might not be a better way to try to avoid the buses of the AHL than playing for one’s father at a prestigious university with a chance to challenge for an NCAA title. Donato knows the AHL might still be in his future but the longer he stays in college, the greater the odds are that he’ll be headed straight to the NHL.
And right now the Bruins can afford to be patient because of the depth of their prospect pool. With Bjork leaving school, he’ll be in the mix with Heinen, Peter Cehlarik, Jake Debrusk and Colby Cave among rookies trying to crack the varsity in the fall. Donato would risk getting caught up in a numbers game if he left school. He can wait for some other things to shake out before he joins the Bruins and maybe the competition thins out.
But four years might be a little ridiculous. If he duplicates or betters his production as a junior, there will be little for Donato to accomplish as a senior, regardless of how tough the ECAC is or how much weight he needs to turn into muscle. Getting the payday and a jump on starting a career that could be shortened by injury will be in his best interest and adding another speedster with a wicked shot onto their pro depth chart will be in the Bruins’ best interest.
Donato has dealt with the pressures of getting drafted by his hometown team (the same team that drafted his dad), playing for his father at his father’s alma mater and playing in some high-leverage NCAA games. Pretty soon it’ll be time for an even bigger challenge and the end of the waiting game by the player and the organization.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalma