Last year, a gifted forward out of Harvard University turned down a contract with the Nashville Predators, the team that had drafted him, opting instead to test the waters of free agency to kickstart his NHL career. That player, Jimmy Vesey, went on to sign with the New York Rangers (to the surprise of many) and began his career with the Blueshirts.
This year, the Bruins have their own talented forward out of Harvard, a player who nearly doubled his point total in his sophomore season with the Crimson, and was labeled as one of Boston’s strongest forwards at development camp this season.
Fortunately, the Bruins won’t have to worry about Ryan Donato choosing free agency over the Bruins, despite the fact that he could very well have the talent to do so. Instead, Donato is passionate about putting on the black and gold. After all, he’s got quite the family history with the B’s.
Donato Set to Join the Bruins
It may not be fair, but the simple fact that Donato plays at Harvard, the same school that Vesey did, is enough of a cause for concern for fans that worry Donato will follow in Vesey’s footsteps and snub the team that drafted him. However, Donato understands the concern, and put it to rest earlier this month noting his intention to sign with the Bruins.
“I understand [testing free agency like Vesey], but I don’t think it’s applicable to me in my situation,” Donato said, per CSNNE. “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 didn’t just grow up in Boston, he grew up with Bruins blood running through him. Donato’s father, Ted Donato, was a longtime Bruin who played over 500 games in black and gold. Growing up, Donato got to be around his father’s teammates and met his idol, Patrice Bergeron, during Bergy’s rookie campaign in 2003-04.
“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, per CSNNE. “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.”
The point is, Bruins fans don’t have to worry about Donato going elsewhere. So, then, the question is not if Donato will sign with the Bruins but when?
Donato Could Make the Jump Next Spring
When it comes to making the jump to the NHL, there are a lot of factors involved. The most obvious, of course, is skill – something that Donato doesn’t lack.
In his first two seasons at Harvard, he has proven that he’s capable of growing his game. He followed up a solid freshman campaign (13 goals, 8 assists in 32 games) with a very good sophomore season, notching 21 goals and 19 assists in 36 games for the Crimson.
He also impressed at the U20 World Junior Championships, in which he tallied three goals and an assist in seven games for the United States.
When asked whether he thought Donato would be able to crack the Bruins’ NHL roster, Boston’s player development coordinator, Jamie Langenbrunner, had nothing but praise for the youngster:
“From a skill set, he seems to be progressing in that way,” said Langenbrunner, per the Boston Globe. “Obviously, [the first day] is a small sample size . . . but he was one of the more noticeable guys out there. From a skill-set standpoint, yeah, he’s definitely put himself into that category, in my estimation.”
But, it’s next season’s totals that will have the biggest impact on Donato’s future. If the 21-year-old can build on his point total, then he’ll be a target for the Bruins to sign at the end of Harvard’s campaign.
Of course, there’s more factors in play than Donato can control. As of now, the Bruins have a number of centers competing for roster space. However, that could change quite a bit by the end of next season. As of now, Bergeron is a lock as a top-four center. David Krejci, despite injury concerns and the media’s questions about his future, remains a lock for now, although his future may be worth keeping an eye on.
Behind them, though, things become a bit uncertain. Ryan Spooner holds the spot as Boston’s third line center, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him dealt before next season’s trade deadline. Noel Acciari has bounced around the Bruins lineup as well, although he doesn’t seem to be a long-term piece for the Bruins in the center position, at least as far as a regular starter goes. Finally, the Bruins have another highly-touted prospect in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, who will play his first professional season this year.
Ryan Donato shows off his hands in the shootout. He had a fantastic camp. pic.twitter.com/bsNhXWozme
— Mark Garbino (@MarkGarbino) July 9, 2017
The Bruins will have a lot of questions about their center depth in the future. While there’s no guarantee that Donato will be an answer, we know there’s room on the depth chart for him to move in. Of course, there’s also no guarantee that Donato will want to turn pro next year. Even if he does plan on signing with the Bruins down the road, there’s a chance he’ll want to see through his time at Harvard first, as his father did.
“You want to get to your dream as fast as you can,” said Donato, per the Boston Globe. “But you don’t want to be too eager, go too early, and maybe something happens. Whenever the time is right, I am going to do it. You have to trust the process.”
Only time will tell what Donato’s future holds, but every indication says that Boston will be involved. So, it’s just a matter of time.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!