Ryan Donato ready to ‘fill whatever role necessary’ in Blackhawks’ forward lineup

While bouncing from the Bruins to Wild to Sharks to Kraken, Donato has gained a versatility that appealed to the Hawks in free agency this summer. He has maintained steady offensive production, too.

SHARE Ryan Donato ready to ‘fill whatever role necessary’ in Blackhawks’ forward lineup
Ryan Donato signed with the Blackhawks earlier this month after two seasons with the Kraken.

Ryan Donato signed with the Blackhawks earlier this month after two seasons with the Kraken.

Steph Chambers/Getty Images file photo

Versatile forward Ryan Donato is excited for his next chapter with the Blackhawks after two solid years with the Kraken.

But Donato’s 3-year-old golden retriever, Moose, might be a bit more upset about leaving the Pacific Northwest.

“He’s full of energy,” Donato said. “We spent a lot of time in Seattle taking him all over the place, to dog parks and that kind of stuff. We were a little spoiled out there, but we’ll have some fun in Chicago, as well.”

Donato, 27, and his now-fiancé, Bradley, added Moose to their family early in the pandemic, shortly after his career took a left turn following its very Boston-centric beginning.

After growing up in the Boston area, getting drafted by the Bruins, playing three years of college hockey at Harvard — where he was coached by his father, Ted — and logging his first 46 NHL games with the Bruins, he was traded to the Wild in 2019. That began a Western Conference journey that later carried him to the Sharks, Kraken and now Hawks.

While Moose tries to find places in Chicago to wear himself out, though, Donato won’t have the same problem at the United Center.

The Hawks signed him to a two-year contract (with a $2 million salary-cap hit) hours into free agency July 1 with his versatility in mind. General manager Kyle Davidson specifically liked Donato’s ability to play all three forward positions — and do so on different lines.

“I’ve learned to do that the tough way,” Donato said. “I’ve had to adapt ... because sometimes other guys were in situations that I wanted to be in, and I had to learn to play in other situations to get my playing time. Now that I’ve adapted and learned, I feel like I can be more valuable to some teams in the sense that I can fill whatever role necessary.”

Despite bouncing around so much, Donato has managed to remain remarkably consistent production-wise, tallying between 20 and 31 points in each of his five NHL seasons to date.

He brings a sneaky-good scoring touch — he potted 16 and 14 goals in his two Kraken seasons and has a 10.1% career shooting percentage — while generating shots at, again, a remarkably consistent rate. He has averaged between 15.3 and 16.1 shot attempts per 60 minutes at five-on-five each of the last four seasons — higher than anyone on the 2022-23 Hawks.

Defensively, Donato allowed 26.5 opponent scoring chances per 60 at five-on-five the last two seasons, which ranked below-average among Kraken forwards but would’ve ranked him among the best Hawks forwards. He did so with a rotating cast of linemates, too, spending no more than 44% of his five-on-five ice time with any one forward teammate.

“Everybody on our team contributed in Seattle,” he said. “I’m hopefully looking forward to doing the same thing in Chicago and maybe even taking more responsibility.”

Indeed, he’s likely in store for a significant ice-time increase over the 11:15 he averaged last season. To prepare for that, he’s working for a second consecutive offseason with skating coach Zach Longo, who also serves as Harvard’s director of hockey operations.

Longo has focused Donato’s attention on the inside and outside edges of his skates and, by doing so, has refined his skating stride.

“It really breaks down into two components,” Longo said. “The edgework helps with quick, tight turns and stopping on a dime. And then on top of that, you need to push off your inside edge when you’re taking off to get into your stride. That is where it incorporates into straight-line, up-ice [skating].

“One thing he has really improved is his power. He is extremely strong in the gym. He puts up great numbers. It was really just about translating that power that he has in the gym into his skating.”

That skating contributes to his all-around-the-rink effectiveness. He can make small maneuvers along the wall to win puck battles, and he can also join the rush — or get back to defend the rush — with speed.

“When it comes to being a versatile player, that’s on Ryan,” Longo added. “His work ethic is second-to-none and that’s why he is where he is. He really takes ownership of his development. He took a big step last year and he hopes to continue to take big steps this year.”

Donato tallied three points in three games with the Kraken against the Blackhawks last season.

Donato tallied three points in three games with the Kraken against the Blackhawks last season.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images file photo

Donato claims to be equally comfortable at every forward position, but one concern if the Hawks deploy him at center is faceoffs — which will likely be a team-wide issue this season with Jonathan Toews and Max Domi gone.

He has won only 42.4% of 394 draws in his career, including 42.2% of 147 draws last season. He personally believes he could improve in that realm with steadier reps, though.

“To be honest, I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “You can ask any guy who’s seen me practice faceoffs: I’m pretty good, especially when I continually practice it. It’s just [that] sometimes I would be taking faceoffs for a game, and then not taking faceoffs for 10 games, and then taking faceoffs for two games. It was pretty inconsistent in that sense. But if I was consistently playing center...I don’t think I would have any problem.”

While training for the coming season, Donato is back home on the Massachusetts coast, enjoying his favorite hobbies of golfing and fishing. At this time last year, he was still a free agent, having not yet re-signed with the Kraken; he’s thankful he endured only a couple hours of that stressful uncertainty this summer.

In an alternate universe, spending his entire career in Boston would’ve been nice, but he has come to embrace his journeyman status. Now he’s just focused on trying to find as much stability as possible for himself — and for Moose, too, of course.

“Nowadays, a lot of guys are playing all over the place,” he said. “It’s [because of] the way the cap is situated. Obviously I would like, in Chicago, to stay there for a long time and have a great career there. But [because of] the way everything has gone, I’ve been on a couple teams, and I’ve used those experiences to learn from people that I’ve met over the years: different players I’ve played with, different coaches that I’ve had.

“They’re all trying to improve my game to hopefully get one of those contracts where I can be on a team for more than two seasons.”

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