Ryan Donato hit the ground running to start his NHL career, but don’t be surprised if it’s a little while before he makes his Stanley Cup playoffs debut.
The Boston Bruins rookie forward has been a revelation in the 12 games since making his NHL debut. He’s got five goals and four assists in those 12 games, logging valuable time on the power play, too.
But you might not see him on the ice Thursday night when the B’s open their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Donato was the odd man out at Tuesday’s practice, and it looks like he might begin the playoffs on Level 9.
The absence of Donato looms, of course, but just as notable is the return of both Rick Nash and Sean Kuraly. Riley Nash didn’t practice, but he’s also progressing and could return soon. Head coach Bruce Cassidy indicated Noel Acciari should be good to go for Game 1, too, after getting a maintenance day Tuesday.
Sending Donato to the press box isn’t entirely surprising. He’s still relatively undersized, and that’s the sort of thing that can loom large in a long playoff series. More importantly, Donato simply hasn’t been able to prove himself as a dependable two-way player at the NHL yet. That’s not surprising, either; he’s only 22 years old with a month of experience.
Also worth consideration is the penalty-killing acumen of a player like Kuraly, an element of the game that will be even more important against a team like Toronto. There’s also something to be said for the veteran presence of a player like Brian Gionta, although he’ll likely sit when Riley Nash is ready to return.
Sitting Donato to start doesn’t mean we won’t see him at some point in the playoffs or even in this series. If the offensive well runs dry, the Bruins always could decide to insert him into the lineup for a little instant offense — kind of like they did with Tyler Seguin in 2011.
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