Ryan Donato had spent just eight games playing for a hockey team away from Massachusetts when he first got traded.
He was in the AHL in Providence, Rhode Island, while the Boston Bruins were in Las Vegas in February 2019 when they pulled the trigger on a deal that sent him to Minnesota, where he would play for a season and a half. Donato had made the Bruins’ opening-night roster that season but quickly fell out of favor with the team, as many young wingers had over the years.
He lit it up in the AHL, but with the soon-to-be Cup Final-bound Bruins in a bit of a roster crunch, and out of patience, there wasn’t a spot for him.
“Playing for your hometown team, there are so many positives to it,” said Ted Donato, Ryan’s father who played for the Bruins and is the coach at Harvard, where Ryan played in college. “But he certainly was under the microscope a little bit. It’s never an easy thing for any player to get traded that first time; it’s a real shock. It happened really early in his playing career, and I think that shaped his desire.”
Donato signed with the Kraken last week, his fourth team since his NHL debut in 2017. Now 25, he hopes Seattle becomes the hockey home that has eluded him since joining his hometown team.
In 180 career games, he has a 9.7 shooting percentage and a reputation as a shoot-first, offensive-minded player. After a down year with the San Jose Sharks and not being tendered a contract this offseason, Donato hopes to show he’s a more complete player.
“I want to make sure I do more,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot more to give. I think if I can do the right things, all my other abilities will take over. I think starting off with a good 200-foot game will help me gain the coaches’ confidence and put me in more situations.”
That’s a role Donato has never had, and one that has never been expected of him. A second-round draft pick in 2014, there were high expectations right off the bat. He was one of many hometown prospects the Bruins had accumulated.
Before being traded, Donato had played mostly locally — high school at Dexter Southfield in Brookline, Massachusetts; junior with the Cape Cod Whalers and South Shore Kings; and Harvard — aside from an eight-game stint with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL before his freshman season of college.
After a strong showing at the 2018 Olympics, during which he posted six points in five games, he joined the Bruins in 2017-18 and produced nine points in five games. The expectations continued to grow when he hit a wall.
He picked up just nine points in 34 games his first full season before being sent to the AHL in January. He was productive, but the Bruins had already been looking to move on. There was no room for Donato on the power play, where he excelled with three goals when he had the chance, on such a top-heavy roster.
After joining Minnesota he got off to a torrid start with 16 points in 22 games to end the season with five power-play points. Though the Bruins went to the Cup Final that year, it looked like Donato could settle in with the Wild.
The next season, though, the Wild was bad; it finished in fifth in the Central with a measly 220 goals. Donato still added 23 points, and 14 of those were goals. He averaged only 10:38 of ice time that season, though, and was sent to the Sharks, where things didn’t go well.
Donato’s shooting percentage dipped to 5.8, and he tallied just six goals. It appeared he had stalled.
Without offensive production being a certainty, Donato has adjusted his mindset to work on the other areas of his game to earn ice time in Seattle, where he hopes to crack the bottom six.
“I’ve learned a lot, to be honest,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words exactly, but I’ve been fortunate to play with some great players, whether it be Patrice Bergeron or Zach Parise or Ryan Suter; the list goes on and on. I mean just from those guys, there’s so many lessons of how to conduct yourself at the rink and interact with your teammates. Hopefully I can use those experiences with the Kraken.”
He has one former college teammate on the Kraken — Colin Blackwell, who was a senior when Donato was a freshman. Blackwell reached out when he learned Donato had signed.
“Anytime you have a familiar face it’s a nice thing,” said Blackwell, who also played with Donato at the World Championships for Team USA this year. “We were linemates in college and have a great history with each other, and that makes the transition for us that much easier.”
Donato is still young, even with 180 career games that make him one of the more experienced candidates for the Kraken’s bottom six. He has one of the higher offensive upsides as well, even as he focuses on other aspects of his game.
Ted Donato has seen Ryan develop as a player since college, and is looking forward to seeing that adjustment.
“He’s always been a guy that scores goals,” Ted said. “Even previous to this level. I think you’re playing against the best players in the world, the best goaltenders in the world, you have to keep finding ways to get your shot off better without it being blocked. Maybe you modify your release a little bit, but he wants to establish himself as more than just a shooter, as a guy who can make plays in all aspects.”
Joining another team is a new experience for everyone on the Kraken, but it doesn’t faze Donato any more. His career, once seemingly a given that he’d be somewhere near home his entire life, became a whirlwind with that first trade.
Now his focus is less on the where and more on how he can not only get better, but be an asset in the NHL, even if that means evolving at 25.
“It’s kind of crazy to think it was not too long ago when I was in Boston,” he said. “Then Minnesota and San Jose; for me, everything’s been moving fast, and I want to do my best to solidify myself in Seattle.”