The Boston Bruins have signed Ryan Donato to a two-year, entry-level deal and say the U.S. Olympic star could play for them right away.
Donato had 26 goals and 17 assists in 29 games this season at Harvard. He led the United States with five goals and six points at the Olympics as one of its youngest players.
The 21-year-old is eligible to be in Boston's lineup Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a big boost to a Stanley Cup contender down the stretch.
Donato was a second-round pick for Boston in 2014, and the team retained his rights while he played for his father, Ted Donato, a former Bruin who has been the coach at Harvard since 2004. The Boston native said at the Olympics it was always a dream for him to play in the NHL and for the Bruins, but he didn't want to make any declarations about his future, which could soon include playoff action.
"At the end of the day I want to graduate as well," Donato said after the U.S. was eliminated at the Olympics. "We'll see what the future holds."
The Bruins are currently without center Patrice Bergeron (fractured foot), left wing Jake DeBrusk (upper body) and right wing/center David Backes (laceration) because of injuries.
"No I don't think it tipped the scales either way. I think Ryan might've looked at it as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as (Monday)," Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said about his team's injury list, which also includes defensemen Zdeno Chara (upper body) and Charlie McAvoy (sprained MCL). "From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. And I think a few things just kind of lined up accordingly."
Despite their injury issues, the Bruins are just four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference with two games in hand. But there is no timetable for the return of any of the injured players, and Sweeney saw the signing of Donato as a chance to add to coach Bruce Cassidy's depth.
"My expectations are that he'll get his feet wet and show us what he can do at this level. We're not going to put any pressure on him to say, `You have to produce,'" Sweeney said. "He's going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play."
Asked if he thought his son was NHL-ready, Ted Donato said, "There are so many factors involved in being NHL-ready, one certainly would be the opportunity presented yourself and the right timing." That timing was obviously right after Harvard did not make the NCAA Tournament and the Bruins got him signed.