By Kirk Luedeke
Dexter School center Ryan Donato (Scituate, Mass.) is the region’s best chance to crack the 2014 NHL Entry Draft’s first round in Philadelphia this June since Charlie Coyle (Weymouth, Mass.) and Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) did it in 2010.
THE RYAN DONATO FILE
numbers: 6-foot-1, 180 pounds
Born: April 9, 1996 Position: Center, Dexter School
Hometown: Scituate, Mass.
Previous minor teams: South Shore Kings, Bay State Breakers, Boston Mission, Boston Jr. Terriers.
All in the family: Father, Ted, played 796 NHL games with the Bruins, Islanders, Senators, Ducks, Stars, Kings, Blues and Rangers. Uncle Dan Donato skated for Boston University and is his prep coach, while uncles Chris and Mike Donato played NCAA hockey as well. Younger brothers: Jack is a Dexter hockey standout (eligible for 2016 NHL draft) while Nolan is a top athlete in golf and hockey.
Favorite NHL team, players growing up: Boston Bruins; Ted Donato, Brett Hull (wears No. 16 in Hull’s honor), Mark Messier
Current NHLer patterns game after: Patrice Bergeron
Scouting report: Elite scorer who has dominated the prep circuit for two years now, taking his production to another level this season. Not a dynamic skater in terms of top-end speed and explosiveness, but is highly fluid and elusive, with superb balance and edgework. Elite hands and hockey sense: slips through defenses, pounces on loose pucks and makes opponents pay for any mistake or opportunity they give him. Plays with a lot of energy and hustle; never stops moving his feet and despite being the most skilled player on the ice most nights, outworks just about everyone else, too. Upside, versatility and commitment to all three zones makes him an impressive long-term NHL prospect.
Draft outlook: Write this down: Ryan Donato will be a first-round pick in Philadelphia. He’s talented, driven, and the rare player who is even more than the sum of an already impressive set of parts. Donato is a project who will take time to develop but could have a terrific payoff for whichever team is willing to wait on his high ceiling.
In his own words
Strengths: “I’m for the team before my own success. I can bring another level of desire to any game, and I’m always trying to gain an edge wherever I can. I’m hungry for success.”
Weaknesses: “I’m always working on my skating. I know I can get quicker and faster, and I have to do the (weight room) work, especially as the competition gets better.” Coach’s Corner: “He’s always been ultra-competitive, but two things that Ryan has done so well (while at Dexter) is that he’s really improved his skating from what it was when he first joined the program. The other thing is that he’s remained a disciplined, humble player throughout his time on the team. I know that when we play other teams, they key on him — hold him, chop him with the stick, maul him — but he stays disciplined and fights through it even though it can be frustrating at times. He’s a good teammate who has remained humble and not let his personal success go to his head.” — Dan Donato, Dexter School head coach
Scouts Out: “Shows great hand/eye coordination around the net‚ can slow the pace down and exploits seams in the defense with his natural hockey sense and instincts. Fearless and willing to step right into traffic knowing he’s going to get hammered in order to create dangerous (scoring) chances.” — Kyle Woodlief, chief scout, Red Line Report
The son of former NHL forward and current Harvard Crimson head coach Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.) is having his finest high school season. That’s saying something, because he led all preps a year ago with 29 goals and 60 points in just 28 games. This time around, he’s putting up even more production, with multiple hat tricks and a solid all-around game that is grabbing a lot of NHL attention.
“So far we’re doing pretty well,” Donato said of Dexter’s 10-4-1 start. “We have a real skilled team with a lot of potential, and I think we’re starting to come together and play the way we’re capable of playing.”
Closing in on about 6-foot-1 in height, Donato is already taller than his father, who made a legitimate living in the NHL as an undersized (5-foot-10) yet speedy and intelligent two-way forward who posted multiple 20-goal seasons in his 13-year career.
“My dad has always been there for me,” Donato said. “I try to take his compete level and knowledge of the game as much as I can. He’s shown me what he had to do behind the scenes to be able to play in the NHL and what it takes to be an elite player at any level.”
Not as explosive a skater as his father was when he played, Donato more than compensates with his better size, excellent hands, top hockey IQ and nonstop motor/hustle. His anticipation and energy allow him to stay a step of the play, and he’s already dazzled scouts with highlight-reel goals and passes this season to build on an already impressive body of work at the prep level.
What’s more, Donato skated in the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in the fall and competed internationally in November’s Four Nations tournament alongside other USA national team players from the NTDP.
“Donato’s doing exactly what you want from a prep or high school-level player,” a Western Conference NHL scout said recently. “He’s a dominant player in his league, plays with a lot of enthusiasm and defensive responsibility. I like that he’s also stepped up and played well against better competition with Team USA. He’s getting better with each game, it seems.”
With a trajectory rising ever higher, Donato is accomplishing the tough feat of raising the bar and, in so doing, setting himself up for an early draft call.
1. Ryan Donato, C, Dexter School (HS-Mass.), 6-1, 180 (Scituate, Mass.)
2. Shane Eiserman, LW, Dubuque (USHL), 6-1, 200 (Newburyport, Mass.); CSS midterm: 39
Power forward isn’t flashy but gets the job done as a two-way winger who does well in puck possession and goes hard to the net.
3. Beau Starrett, LW, South Shore (USPHL), 6-4, 195 (Bellingham, Mass.); CSS midterm: 83
Stock should only go up for the Cornell recruit, who, like Zach Sanford a year ago, could use second half as a springboard into top-60 consideration in Philly.
4. Miles Gendron, D, Rivers School (HS-Mass.), 6-2, 178 (Shrewsbury, Mass.); CSS midterm: 85
So far so good: UConn recruit is all raw tools and projection at this point, but worth a mid-round roll of the dice as a draft-and-stash prospect.
5. Johnathan MacLeod, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 6-1, 200 (Dracut, Mass.); CSS midterm: 44
Injuries kept the rugged, mobile BU-bound defender on the shelf early, but he is an accomplished shutdown player with upside for Team USA.
6. J.D. Dudek, C, Kimball Union Academy (HS-N.H.), 5-11, 175 (Auburn, N.H.); CSS midterm: 157
Smart, slick passer has done nothing but rack up the points for the Wildcats this year, but still not getting the kind of buzz he’s worthy of. Yet.
7. Max Willman, LW, Williston-Northampton (HS-Mass.), 6-0, 175 (Barnstable, Mass.); CSS midterm: 177
Former Red Raiders star was skipped in last year’s draft but now winning over NHL teams as a postgraduate scorer before he goes to Brown.
Keep an eye on: Northfield-Mt. Hermon forward Ben Freeman. The 6-foot-4 Falmouth, Maine, native can skate, shoot and score. Though raw, NHL scouts are keeping tabs quietly given his big-league tools.