Has the time come for center Ryan Donato to take his talents to the next level after dominating the prep school ranks in Massachusetts for three seasons?
That decision likely will be made at some point following the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27-28. Donato, No. 58 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the North American skaters eligible for the 2014 draft, is projected to be selected during the first three rounds of the draft. He's the No. 2-ranked U.S. high school player, after defenseman Luc Snuggerud of Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School, who is No. 42 on the list.
Donato, the son of former NHL player Ted Donato, had 37 goals and 78 points in 30 games for Dexter School in Brookline this season; in three high school seasons he's totaled 80 goals and 174 points in 83 games.
"I think he's proven everything he can at the prep-school level, and when he's had a few opportunities to play against tougher competition he's done well," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "I think it'll improve his game and he'll perform well. If there are deficiencies that people may perceive, he can answer that question. If there's something he needs to prove in a higher-paced game, better competition will make it that way for him."
Donato, born in Boston, could return to Dexter for his senior season or opt for the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League in 2014-15. He also didn't rule out the British Columbia Hockey League, but high school or the USHL would appear to be his top two destinations.
"I don't think I could go wrong with either team [Dexter or Omaha]," Donato said. "A lot of [NHL] teams might want to see me go to Omaha, but I'm also going to do what's best for me. I feel I could still make an impact if I stayed at Dexter, but if the team [that drafts me] would like to see me go to Omaha, that's the decision. I'll do what the team wants."
Gregory acknowledged most NHL teams likely would have inquired about his decision for 2014-15 during the interviewing stage of the NHL Scouting Combine, held May 26-30. Donato interviewed with 19 teams at the Combine.
"My gut feeling is teams will ask him to take his game to the next level in the USHL," Gregory said. "If you're falling into the top 30 or 40 range in the draft, that team drafting him is going to want him playing against the highest competition possible because they want him challenging for a spot on their team in a couple of years. That doesn't happen if he's in high school for another year."
The 6-foot, 174-pound left-shot center is following the path his father took to the NHL. Just as Ryan has dominated the prep-school hockey ranks, so did Ted. And just as Ted Donato attended Harvard University, so will Ryan. Ted graduated from Harvard and is the men's hockey coach there.
"I really try to take his work ethic more than anything," Ryan said of his father. "He was one of the hardest workers off the ice and I think that's one thing I try to take, his drive to compete and succeed. My dad knows my dream is to be a hockey player and not necessarily attend Harvard. Harvard is also a dream, but pro hockey is a bigger dream. The one thing he said was to do what I want to do with my life and live out my dreams."
Ryan said he would relish the opportunity to play in the Beanpot Tournament, a hockey tradition in the Boston area. The Crimson haven't won the Beanpot since 1993, so winning one while playing for his father is pretty high on Ryan's wish list.
"I cannot wait to play in the Beanpot," Donato said. "All my family and friends always watch the tournament; that'll be one of the biggest moments of my hockey career. Having an opportunity to play in front of my home city would be something special, for sure."
Ted Donato was selected by the Boston Bruins in the fifth round (No. 98) of the 1987 draft and spent 13 seasons in the League with the Bruins, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers. As any son of a hockey-playing father would do, Ryan would tag along whenever he had the chance.
"I'm the type of guy who will do whatever the team needs; I'm very team-orientated, which is something else I learned from dad," Donato said. "I also like to score and create opportunities. I'm a guy who can play on the power play and penalty kill, work hard and block shots."
Ryan Donato said high school hockey has done wonders for him athletically and academically.
"I loved it," he said. "High school hockey fit me well. I think it benefitted me playing high school hockey because I got touches on the puck in every situation, and that was so important in building confidence and gaining repetitions on the power play and penalty kill."