By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s easy to see why people want first-month NHLer Ryan Donato in the lineup before the curtains close on their quest for the 2018 Stanley Cup. Even in a must-win Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.
With a migraine-inducing inability to get pucks on net — the Bruins have missed the second-most shots in the league this spring, with 92 misses, 42 of which have come from their four top-six wingers — life for the Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen surprisingly hasn’t been as difficult as the shot totals thrown his way would indicate.
The B’s are also noticeably struggling to get bodies to the front of the net to cloud Andersen’s vision (or tip pucks through his 6-foot-4 frame), and the power play that got off to a 5-for-10 start has gone a woeful 1-for-9 since Game 3.
This is where a natural-born scorer like Donato, based on what we’ve seen and know, would step in just fine.
For all his defensive shortcomings, Donato is player that recorded 26 goals and 43 points in 29 games for the Harvard Crimson this past season. Donato also scored five goals in a six-game run with Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he skated as an often immovable net-front presence on Team USA’s power play. Donato then jumped right into the fires of the NHL, where he totaled five goals and nine points (four of which came on the man advantage) in a 12-game run with the Black and Gold.
For additional perspective on Donato’s impact in that 12-game NHL sample that saw him skate in every possible role, consider that from the date of his NHL debut on Mar. 19 to the end of the regular season, the Bruins’ top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak were the only Boston skaters to record more points than No. 17.
Again, given their current needs, Donato seems like an easy fit.
But it’s not that simple, according to Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who opted to expand on why you haven’t seen the Scituate, Mass. native since a Game 2 effort that included three shots on goal and a minus-1 rating in 9:24 of play.
“We’ve considered it, certainly,” Cassidy said of icing Donato. “He played a [playoff] game earlier. He was OK. He wasn’t bad, he wasn’t great, he was somewhere in between. Whatever we decide tomorrow [for Game 7] — it’s not set in stone, we looked at some things today — [but] there is a certain level of trust you have in your players that have gotten you this far, and Danton Heinen is one of those who’s played really well for us.”
A healthy scratch in Game 6, Cassidy is clearly hoping that he’s pressed the right button with the 22-year-old Heinen to get his head back on straight, and has even given him a chance to produce right away, with Heinen projected to begin Game 7 as the right-side presence on Boston’s second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
Giving Heinen a start in that role is a total ‘prove me’ move from Cassidy, by the way, as that trio has almost zero prior history together, with just 22 minutes of five-on-five action together this season.
It’s also Heinen’s versatile style that gives him an advantage over the more one-dimensional — both as a player and in terms of where he can currently play in your lineup — element that comes with Donato’s presence in the lineup.
“The playoffs… you look at [Heinen’s] numbers, that line hasn’t produced a lot five-on-five so what can we could do better? He’s still a good defensive player, he’s always going to give us that. He can play up the lineup; he had success going down [the lineup] with Kuraly,” Cassidy said of Heinen. “Rick Nash we can certainly move back with Krejci, that’s an easy fix. Danton has played right wing. And that’s where Ryan — is right now in our estimation, probably strictly a left-winger — so that’s where the juggling comes in if we’re gonna use Ryan.
“Ryan is in consideration [to play in Game 7]. It’s just we’re gonna try to play the 12 best forwards, see how the pieces fit, and win a hockey game tomorrow. He may or may not be part of that.”
But with tomorrow morning slated to be an optional morning skate, and with Donato taking absolutely zero rushes with anybody but fellow projected scratches Brian Gionta and Tommy Wingels during Tuesday’s quickie practice at Warrior, it’s fair to bet on him not being part of that lineup.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.