Ryan Donato is Déjà vu for Bruins

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 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 to make it four points through two professional games.

As the postseason nears, he could be a Tyler Seguin-esque X-factor for the Bruins during their run to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

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 that game, the series, and eventually the Stanley Cup.

If not for Seguin filling 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 twice came back from 2-0 deficits in the 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 guy 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 in South Korea 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.

Once he made his debut, it meant Donato will now be a restricted free agent the year after next. 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. He 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, paid instant dividends a season ago. 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 presence 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.

Matthew Cunha is a producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.