Boston Bruins forward Ryan Donato entered his NHL debut Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a reputation as a solid offensive player, and he enhanced that take on his skill set with a stellar first game.
“You know, he’s on the puck, as advertised, in terms of his compete,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Wanted to shoot the puck. I think, early, he was trying to make some plays and then realized, just play to your strength. Did a real good job. I didn’t notice anything away from the puck. I’m sure there’s a few teaching moments once you go back over the game tape and go from there. But, like I said, I liked him a lot, and I’m sure (David Krejci) did, as well. They seemed to have some good chemistry.”
Donato was energetic on his first shift — battling for the puck and even spinning a backhand on net for his first career shot on goal.
He also drew a slashing penalty to put the Bruins on a first-period power play, one that Donato participated on as a member of the No. 1 unit filling in for Rick Nash’s role as the net-front presence. Donato nearly scored on the man advantage but was denied by two great saves from Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo.
Donato finished his first period of action with four shots on goal in 5:13 of ice time, including 1:56 of power-play run.
His second period was even better.
Donato played 7:03 in the frame and scored his first career NHL goal. He beat Korpisalo with a slapshot from inside the left faceoff circle to tie the score at one goal apiece.
Donato went back to the front of the net during a second-period power play and picked up an assist — his first in the NHL — on Riley Nash’s goal.
Here’s a quick recap of his first two periods as a pro:
Donato picked up his second assist of the night on Krejci’s third-period goal that tied the score 4-4.
Donato’s final line: one goal, two assists, six shots on goal, 19:40 of ice time (4:46 power-play time) in a 5-4 overtime loss.
“Obviously, you’re never really going to expect to play in your first NHL game and have chances,” Donato said, per a transcript provided by the B’s. “For me, I was just going in with a positive attitude and no matter what role they had me in I was going to try and do it to my best. And I was fortunate to get a couple bounces and it almost went in a couple times and obviously one went in and that was great too.”
The most impressive aspect of Donato’s debut was he looked like he belonged at this level. It’s not easy to go from college hockey to the NHL in a span of a week, but the former Crimson star made it look simple. He obviously was well-coached by his father at Harvard.
Donato could play an important role for the Bruins down the stretch and into the playoffs. The B’s need his offensive talent at even strength and the power play. He has a tremendous shot, he’s a gifted passer, he crashes the net hard and he has the versatility to play on the wing or at center.
Given all the injuries the Bruins have suffered this season, Donato should earn plenty of ice time. But even when the injured veterans eventually come back into the lineup, Cassidy should do all he can to find opportunities for Donato.
He has special talent, and the Bruins could make a deep playoff run if they put him in positions to use those skills.