2014 second-round pick Ryan Donato will attend Harvard in the fall. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
WILMINGTON — By staying at Dexter Academy, Ryan Donato may have chosen the wrong level of competition last season. He won’t have to worry about that going forward.
The Bruins’ first pick from the 2014 is already an NHL player (David Pastrnak). Their third pick is a quickly rising prospect who tore up the NCAA as a freshman (Danton Heinen). Smack-dab between those picks was Ryan Donato, whom the B’s selected with the 26th pick of the second round.
While it was known he would play under father Ted Donato at Harvard this season, he had yet to choose between returning to Dexter for his senior year or playing against older and better competition in the USHL last season. Citing academics, Donato chose Dexter after playing fall hockey with the South Shore Kings of the USPHL.
Coming off a junior year in which he put up 78 points (37 goals, 41 assists) in 38 games, Donato faced the challenge of still trying to develop while playing in a league he’d seemingly already mastered.
“One thing my dad made clear to me was that every player hits that moment where they think that they’re playing their greatest, and then they have a downfall,” Donato said Thursday. “What he said was [to] always be competitive and always try to get better no matter where you’re at.”
That proved to be tougher than expected for Donato, whose points dropped off as a senior. Feeling that he was something of a marked man against other teams, Donato dropped off his draft year pace with 53 points (18 goals, 35 assists) in 31 games for Dexter.
When the season ended, Donato went to the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, and against better competition looked more like the player Boston had envisioned. Donato posted five goals and five assists for 10 points in eight games with the Lancers, adding goal in the playoffs.
“At Dexter, I was I was being double-covered a lot, kind of getting that feeling of being in tight spaces,” Donato explained. “When I got to [the USHL], I felt like I had a lot more time and space, but that pace was also a lot faster and I felt like that was more of the pro style that the scouts were looking for.”
Going to college will ramp up Donato’s competition significantly, and he likely won’t have the burden of the other team focusing entirely on him. The Bruins like what they’ve seen from Donato so far at camp and look forward to seeing how he fares at college.
“In all the battle drills and all that stuff, he’s competing really hard,” Jay Pandolfo said. “You can see the skill level when he’s around the net, so I think he’s progressing really well.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing him play next year at Harvard. He’s the kind of guy that I think when he plays with better players, he’s going to make them better and it’s going to be better for him.”
Donato is in no rush to turn pro, and he also hopes to get a Harvard degree in the process. He has yet to declare a major, but he said he’d like to finish his degree at some point if he chooses to leave school early. That’s a bridge he won’t have to cross for a while, however, and his focus for now is on Harvard.
“I’m definitely going to prioritize academics, but my long-time goal is to be an NHL player. Whenever they think I’m ready, or whenever my family thinks I’m ready, I’m going to go,” Donato said. “I also want to pursue my academics and I’m not going to take that lightly at all.”