We’re moving affable Kraken forward Ryan Donato from a “yes” to a “maybe”.
“Yes” is where we had him a month ago when we started evaluating Seattle’s three healthy NHL unrestricted free agents, Donato, defenseman Carson Soucy and goalie Martin Jones, and the possibility of them being re-signed.
We had the three as a yes, a maybe, and a no, but Donato’s ranking might be on thin ice.
Donato was part of the deep, well balanced Kraken attack in 2022-’23, as he finished with 14 goals and 13 assists in 71 games while playing 4th-line minutes.
The 27-year-old Boston native offers some versatility in his ability to play center or wing, but so do others, and one might suggest that when the forward group gets stronger up top and deeper, Donato would be the first odd-man-out at the bottom.
Should we read into the fact that he was almost the only Kraken forward not made available for exit interviews with the media last week? Probably not.
Should we make a big deal out of the fact that he was essentially the only regular forward not to score a goal in the playoffs? Definitely not.
It was already a happy abnormality that the Kraken were able to generate goals from 18 different skaters during the postseason. I mean what do you want?! Yes, unsung heroes emerge annually in the playoffs, but it’s rare to have every single 4th liner lighting the lamp.
“We just need Donato to get one to make it 19,” was the lighthearted refrain often heard during Round-2.
It’s tough to compare teammates, particularly when they shoot from opposite sides and play different positions, but we’ll try anyway.
At one point, in terms of overall value, it may have been easy to compare Donato with right winger Daniel Sprong, given the fact they were both bounced from the line-up at various times as scratches.
Sprong doesn’t play center and might not have Donato’s overall hockey sense, but he ripped home 21 goals this past season and based on bang-for-the-buck, he was one of the five most valuable point producers per dollars spent in the NHL. He added 25 assists for 46 points in 66 games.
Morgan Geekie produced less than both of his aforementioned fellow forwards, but he does play both wing and center, saw time on the penalty kill, and he’s a right-handed draw. In a perfect world, teams like to have a nice righty-lefty balance in terms of their pivots. Geekie won 45% of his draws, Donato, a lefty, 32.5%.
Analytically, Donato was strong given his amount of time on ice. As we pointed out in April, he was ahead in “expected goals” and his takeaways during the regular season were more than double his “giveaways”. In numerical terms, this was an expression of his hockey sense and responsible play. His team possession numbers, “shots for” and “goals for” on-ice were impressive, although not as impressive as Sprong’s. Both were sterling given their place on the depth chart.
Geekie’s were not so good.
Interestingly, while Donato is a UFA, Sprong, who made the team this past season on a Professional Try-Out (PTO) basis, and Geekie are both Restricted Free Agents (RFA) with arbitration rights. If Kraken GM Ron Francis doesn’t make them a qualifying offer, they can walk away in the summer.
Ultimately he has the same decision to make regarding all three players, because none of them are breaking the bank and Seattle should have plenty of salary cap space to work with.
Ryan’s dad Ted Donato played almost 800 regular season games in the NHL and 58 more in the playoffs. He’s been running Harvard’s hockey program as the head coach since 2004.
That’s right, Ryan’s a coach’s son, and not just any coach. He played for his dad at Harvard for three seasons and they still talk practically every day. That might explain those sensibilities and his team-first mentality.
Numbers are great, but chemistry is irreplaceable in a sport that features a “firehouse” mentality. Donato is a great one to have around. Two quotes sum him up.
During the postseason, he talked glowingly about Kraken rookie winger Tye Kartye, a 22-year-old fellow lefty, who along with other potential fresh faces could have an impact on Donato’s future.
“Very respectable kid, he works hard, does all the right things, and it’s fun to see a kid, or a guy that comes in the line-up and might not know everybody and just buys in right away,” Donato said. “Blocking shots, big hits, all that kind of stuff. If you’re not mentally invested and physically invested the entire season it’s hard to get to that level, but he’s jumped right in and had no problem with it at all.”
Said with a smile, just like in April when he talked about “taking one for the team”, as in getting punched in the head to draw a penalty, as opposed to taking one with the team getting close to earning a playoff spot.
“You could say that getting punched in the face is something I could do for the team, I obviously don’t like to to that, I’d rather be on the other end of it, but I think anytime you get to stick up for each other, it shows how close we are,” Donato said. “We’re a tight knit group and everybody’s gonna stick up for each other when we get a chance. I think there’s a lot of guys that are willing to answer the bell if need be.”
Or to play it smart. Donato would be one of them either way.
In 2018, Donato played 12 NHL games fresh out of college for his hometown Bruins, the team that drafted him in the 2nd-round in 2014. After 34 games with the big club and 18 with Providence of the AHL the next season, he was moved to Minnesota in a deal for right-shot center Charlie Coyle. After 84 games with the Wild he was traded to San Jose where he spent a season with the Sharks before signing with the Kraken in September of 2021.
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