The Boston Bruins have found themselves in a bit of a sticky situation following back-to-back losses in Games 5 and 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, as the series shifts back to TD Garden for a series-deciding Game 7 on Wednesday.
Throughout the first six games of the series, recent signee and 2014 second-round pick out of Harvard, Ryan Donato has dressed just once, when he played a total of nine minutes on the third line in Game 2 and did not score a point.
Following the losses, many are questioning whom the Bruins should turn to outside of the Bergeron line, as the offensive production from the forwards in Games 1 and 2 has dropped off significantly. Danton Heinen and Tommy Wingels have both served time on the second line throughout this series, but neither has been able to produce for the Bruins during the last several games.
Who Stays, Who Goes?
Bruce Cassidy has made Donato the odd man out for the majority of the series, but with the Bruins lacking the necessary scoring in order to close out this series, it might be time for the B’s to give Donato his chance ahead of either/both Heinen or Wingels in Game 7.
Obviously, Cassidy has his reasons for sitting Donato in favor of guys like Wingels, Tim Schaller, and other bottom-six forwards. Defensively, Wingels and Schaller bring more to the table but right now, scoring is Boston’s main issue not defensive play at forward. Benching Heinen, a player who has been extremely hot and cold throughout the season seems like the better move for Cassidy, as it would allow another young scorer to step into a big-time role while Schaller and crew supply the defensive necessities on the bottom-six.
In order to get the most out of Donato, Cassidy would need to find a balance in Game 7. He was already given a chance to prove himself on the third line in Game 2 and nothing really came of it, partly due to the restriction of minutes and the defensive situations in which he was placed.
Wingels was given a shot on the second line in Game 2 and, again, nothing came out of it outside of being on the ice for a Jake DeBrusk goal off of a faceoff win in the offensive end. A second line that contains DeBrusk on the off-wing with his strong shot (as seen in Game 6), David Krejci at center, and Donato on the left wing gives the Bruins not only something Toronto has yet to see in this series but it gives them a line that’s purely a scoring line.
The forward lines for the Bruins without Heinen or Wingels would look like this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
Donato – Krejci – DeBrusk
Riley Nash – Backes – Rick Nash
Schaller – Kuraly – Acciari
Is Donato Ready Defensively?
The Leafs would likely counter by attacking Donato physically along the boards and forcing him to make defensive plays, but the presence of Krejci and DeBrusk, two players who have taken on a bigger defensive roles and on special teams throughout the series (specifically DeBrusk with his even +/- and three power-play points) could allow the Bruins to make up for the lost efficiency with Donato on the second forward unit.
Along with playing with an experienced two-way veteran in Krejci and a young, up-and-coming, two-way winger in DeBrusk, Donato has been working hard on his defensive game in practice ever since the Bruins signed him to the entry-level deal. On Tuesday, Donato stayed after practice for over an hour by himself working on board-play and pivoting in his own end, which could foreshadow Cassidy’s plans for Donato in Game 7.
Ryan Donato is working on his own well after his teammates have left. This will be a good experience for him. pic.twitter.com/PEKaboziTl
— Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) April 24, 2018
If things don’t work out with Donato serving as one of the Bruins’ top-six forwards in the deciding game, then at least Cassidy can say he tried to provide the team with more scoring. If Boston opts to send Donato up to the seventh floor for the fifth straight game in favor of Wingels or Heinen, and they lose 3-1 or 2-0 in Toronto, the Bruins will only have themselves to blame for not giving one of their best young scoring prospects a chance to make a difference in this series.
Mike Flanagan is a freelance sports writer and multi-media journalist who covers the Boston Bruins and their prospects for The Hockey Writers. Mike often produces videos for the social media platforms of Barstool Sports’ The Crease Dive and Spittin Chiclets podcasts and also serves as the sports editor for the newspaper Hometown Weekly. Follow Mike on Twitter at the above handle or on Instagram @flano0.