Even with his red cheeks aglow like a school kid, Ryan Donato is getting to be an old man in the development world. Now 21, and planning to start his junior year at Harvard in a few weeks, he began his fourth development camp with the Bruins Thursday, a virtual centurion in a dressing room chock-full of teenage sharpshooters and Snapchatters.
“The third or fourth time, you kind of just know you’ve got to help the younger guys,” said a poised Donato, son of ex-Bruin Ted Donato. “Because I know when I came in here I was petrified, I didn’t know what to do. So just kind of take them under your wing a little bit.
“Obviously, you’re not a veteran, but it’s your fourth year, you know the ropes a little bit.”
In a league laser-focused on youth and speed, one in which top prospects often turn pro after only one or two D camps, Donato, a center/wing, would seem overripe to get on with his dream. With a few simple strokes of a pen, he could cross over the Charles River, and try to earn his keep here in Boston or climb up the ladder with the AHL Bruins.
“From a skill set, he seems to be progressing in that way,” said Jamie Langenbrunner, the club’s player development coordinator, when asked if he felt Donato is ready to compete for a varsity job. “Obviously, [the first day] is a small sample size . . . but he was one of the more noticeable guys out there.
“From a skill-set standpoint, yeah, he’s definitely put himself into that category, in my estimation.”
A year ago, fresh off being picked No. 14 in the draft, Charlie McAvoy attended his first Bruins D camp. He turned pro in the spring and logged impressive minutes in the playoffs. Brandon Carlo, two D camps on his résumé, became a top-four stalwart on the Boston defense last year. Boston University’s Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, who played head to head vs. Donato last season, turned pro less than 24 months after being drafted.
Donato was here with all of them, watched them all pass through, to go on quickly with their professional lives.
“When you see guys you’re best friends with, doing the things you want to do, obviously there’s a little bit of a jealousy,” he said. “But you have to do what’s best for you. Everybody’s situation is different.
“I am not too jealous, I am not too eager. I just want to play my game and get better and eventually, hopefully, I’ll be able to put on a Bruins sweater again.”
Donato’s father stuck it out the full four years at Harvard and finally turned pro with the Bruins after his stint with the 1992 Olympic squad. Now the Crimson coach, he counsels his son as a dad, as his coach, and as an ex-NHLer who knows well that the league is first and foremost a business.
Over a career of more than a dozen years, the senior Donato played for eight NHL teams, including return stints with the Islanders and Bruins. It’s no doubt in dad’s best interest for Ryan to remain in school, perhaps help the Crimson return to the Frozen Four, but more than one family dinner has to include the ongoing discussion: Should I stay or should I go now?
Has he been tempted?
“No, not yet, [the Bruins] have been great,” said Donato, who nearly doubled his offensive output in his second year at Harvard, collecting 21 goals and 40 points in 36 games. “The staff here, obviously, we’ll talk at the end of the week — a debriefing of how the week went — but there’s been no pressure so far. They’ve been very good to me.
“Obviously, it’s tough with the situation I am in, a little bit awkward. But they’ve been good and haven’t made too much of a stressful move on me. So there’s nothing to worry about. I’ll take it day by day. I’ll talk to them at the end and see what happens.”
If he sees it through at Harvard, he could be in D camp again in 2018 and ’19, the latter with Harvard degree in hand. In September 2019, he would report to his first pro camp with six D camps on his curriculum vitae.
“That’s a lot,” said Donato, sounding slightly miffed as he contemplated the number. “That’s a lot of D camps.”
Everyone’s process is different, he said again. He’s in no rush, he said again.
“You want to get to your dream as fast as you can,” he said. “But you don’t want to be too eager, go too early, and maybe something happens. Whenever the time is right, I am going to do it. You have to trust the process.”
. . .
Anders Bjork, who turned pro just weeks ago, opting not to return for his senior season at Notre Dame, was among four prospects not in uniform. Bjork remained home to tend to a family matter and won’t be in uniform until Saturday . . . Three other players — defenseman Ryan Lindgren, defenseman Jeremy Lauzon, and forward Cameron Hughes — are recuperating from injury and are not expected to participate over the next three days, according to Langenbrunner . . . Invitee goalie Rob McGovern also was not on the ice. According to Langenbrunner, doctors flagged a minor issue during McGovern’s physical. He is expected to be on the ice Saturday morning . . . The three remaining workouts are all scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. at Warrior Arena (open to the public, free admission).
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.