2014 NHL Draft: Bruins pick Donato hoping to follow father’s footsteps to NHL

By Richard Murray

2014 NHL Draft - Ryan Donato - Boston Bruins

Photo: Boston Bruins draftee Ryan Donato is currently deciding whether to return to Dexter School for another season or play for the USHL’s Omaha Lancers in 2014-15 (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Very few hockey players get the chance to play for the team that they grew up watching, but forward Ryan Donato has a chance to make that dream a reality.

Donato was selected 56th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins, and appears to be following in the footsteps of his father and Harvard coach, Ted Donato.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “It doesn’t even feel like it is happening right now. It feels like a dream. There are so many other great organizations, but now that I’m here, I can say that this is where I want to be.”

The older Donato was drafted by the Bruins in 1987 and played for Harvard. Ryan is committed to play for the Crimson in 2015. The Scituate, MA native is just as excited to play for the college he grew up following.

“I haven’t been accepted, yet, but if I get to go there it will be a dream come true,” Donato said. “Seeing the guys work ethic on and off the ice, I know that I can best prepare myself there to be a hockey player at (Harvard). Getting the chance to play at (Harvard) and for the Bruins would be unbelievable.”

Next season, it appears he will either return to Dexter School or go to the Omaha Lancers in the USHL. Donato said he would make a decision soon with guidance from the Bruins.

Playing for Dan Donato, his uncle, Ryan flourished at Dexter the past three seasons. In 30 games this season, he scored 78 points (37 goals, 41 assists). That followed a 60-point sophomore campaign and 36-point rookie season.

There doesn’t appear to be much left for Donato to prove at the prep level, and the talent in the league may be the reason he fell to No. 56. Bruins Director of Scouting Keith Gretzky mentioned that the Bruins were surprised Donato was still available that late in the second round.

According to Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli, making a call on Donato's talent level wasn't necessarily an easy decision to make.

“The challenge with assessing a high school player is that the level of competition isn’t always the greatest,” Chiarelli said. “He has a tremendous skill set and tremendous bloodlines. He has to work on his skating and strength, but he has a good package.”

Even though Donato hasn’t played at the most competitive level yet, he has plenty of time to develop. Donato still has a year before he even goes to college. The Bruins have moved away from drafting out of the CHL and instead are choosing NCAA-bound players. Fourth round pick Danton Heinen and fifth round pick Anders Bjork are also going the collegiate route.

“Here is the attraction to the NCAA kids, if they’re in a good program, they’ll develop,” Chiarelli said. “You get them for four years, and sometimes that youngster (in the CHL) isn’t ready or strong enough when they turn 20 to start playing in the AHL. You get that little period where they get a little stronger. We have a lot of good players coming out of college.”

The Bruins have been following a tendency the past few drafts taking Boston natives. Last season, the Bruins selected Boston College forward Ryan Fitzgerald, whose father played for the team while his uncle Scott is the Bruins' Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting. The year before, they took Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, whose father works at TD Garden.

“We try and look closely at the Boston kids,” Chiarelli said.  “We see them more because we’re here, and it’s important to get that local flavor. Selfishly, they are also more motivated to play for their hometown teams.”

Something that stuck out to the Bruins about Donato was his conditioning. He proved to be committed to his diet and workout routines.

“When we saw him in Toronto at the Combine, he was thinned out,” Gretzky said. “Conditioning is a factor for him, and he wants to improve in that area. That will help his skating, and he has a sense of skill. It’s hard to find those types of players.”

Donato already has a unique connection with Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. During his father Ted’s last season, he played with an 18-year-old Bergeron. The younger Donato has been looking up to Bergeron ever since and has become close with the Selke Trophy winner.

“He’s (very) well respected by the guys off the ice,” Donato said. “I remember when he was younger, his rookie year, it was my dad’s last season in the NHL. He came to Harvard games, and he is special to me.”

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