Ryan Donato and Wiley Sherman are both Boston Bruins prospects. But first and foremost, they’re teammates and friends on the Harvard University Crimson.
The two bear a striking contrast in style and stature, but when it comes to substance- both made quite an impression this week at the recently concluded NHL development camp in Wilmington, Mass.
Donato is more of a hot shot prospect than Sherman is. He’s the coach’s kid at Cambridge- a man who knows firsthand what his son is going through. Nearly 30 years ago, Ted Donato was a high school superstar at legendary Catholic Memorial, a Hyde Park native drafted by his hometown Bruins in 1987. He stayed home and went on to win an NCAA title at Harvard (the school’s only championship) in 1989, played for the U.S. Olympic team after graduating in 1991, and joined the Bruins in the spring of 1992. Little Ryan came along four years later, and in 2014, the B’s made Ted and Jeannine Donato’s eldest of four children their second-round selection (56th overall).
If Ryan was born into this Boston hockey legacy, then Sherman comes via a different path and has been much more unheralded in his development. A native of Greenwich, Conn. who like most kids from that region of New England, owes his childhood sports allegiances to New York and the Rangers in particular, Sherman didn’t grow up around the FleetCenter and TDGarden the way Donato has. Nonetheless, a product of the Hotchkiss School Bearcats prep program, Sherman hasn’t found it tough to switch his focus to Boston after coming to the Ivy League two years ago.
“Wiley is a great guy on and off the ice,” Donato told the Scouting Post via text. “Many people don’t realize it- he looks skinny because he’s so tall but he’s actually very strong. He’s probably one of the hardest guys that I’ve ever gone 1-on-1 against.”
The “Sherman tank” is about 6-foot-7 and weighing in around 220 pounds these days. The scary thing is- he’s going to get a lot heavier as he continues his growth and development. Boston’s fifth-round choice in 2013 was immediately identified as a project selection; a raw player whose impressive physical traits and surprisingly smooth and agile skating meant that with ample time and patience, he could make it all the way to the big show one day.
Three years after being drafted in Newark, with one of those seasons spent as a senior back at Hotchkiss, Sherman is a rising junior and coming off a three-goal, 10-point season. With his natural size, reach and effortless skating and footwork, he has a legitimate shot at one day being at the very least, a lower-pairing shutdown player who could be pretty effective if put on the ice with a partner who can also skate and move the puck.
“He’s tough, has a long reach and is quick,” said Donato. “He’s the type of guy who is a hard-nosed player that you hate going against in practice and then is one of your best friends off the ice.”
Not known for his physicality at the prep level, Donato said that Sherman has added some sandpaper to his game since arriving in Cambridge. History has certainly shown that big players don’t have to be bring the pure nastiness and intimidation factor of a Scott Stevens to be effective, so long as they are willing to use their natural size and strength to initiate contact and finish checks/do the hard work along the walls to separate opposition forwards from the puck.
Sherman probably doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to make an effective first pass and he has exhibited an absolute smoke show of a shot from the point, which is not surprising when you consider the kind of power he’s able to generate with his gigantic frame. Offense won’t likely be Sherman’s strong suit if he reaches the NHL, but he’s got potential to chip in with some points when needed. He’s an excellent athlete who also starred in lacrosse while at Hotchkiss and his brother, George, was a college LAX player at Brown as well.
“He always could move for such a huge kid,” an NHL scout for a Western Conference team recently quipped. Fans who were used to seeing Hal Gill lumbering around the ice over the course of 1,000+ NHL games are in for a bit of a treat with this guy. That’s not to say Sherman is assured of reaching the NHL and staying there, but in the right role, he could go on to have prolonged success, even if not in a top-three role.
As far as Donato goes, points at the next level do not seem to be an issue. He tallied 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games in his very first year in college. Those totals included a hat trick, and by the end of the season, the cerebral and skilled playmaking center was skating with a wealth of confidence. Part of that stemmed from being named to Team USA’s World Jr. Championship squad- he earned a bronze medal in Finland and tallied twice against Sweden in that decisive game (along with fellow B’s prospect Anders Bjork).
When Donato played at Dexter School in Brookline under his uncle, Dan Donato, he blossomed as one of the most dominant prep players in the past five years. The elder Donato rightly pointed out that because his nephew was so talented, the competition often game planned around him- doing all they could to stop him and often failing at it. Additionally, Donato was subjected to cheap, even dirty fouls in an effort to goad him into retaliating so he would come off the ice. He showed even then a high level of discipline to not take the bait and hurt his opponents where it mattered: on the scoreboard.
“The first thing you notice about Ryan is that he’s bigger than his dad,” said one New England-based NHL scout who was high on Donato in his draft year and has kept tabs on him since. “He’s not quite the skater Teddy was, but he’s got greater scoring potential because he’s got a great head for the game and just super hands. He’s always creating, always pushing the pace and finding ways to make plays in the offensive end.”
Like Sherman, the B’s drafted Donato with the idea of being patient with him and allowing him to come along on a more deliberate timeline. He played another year of prep at Dexter, sandwiched with junior experience with the South Shore Kings (USPHL) and Omaha Lancers (USHL) prior to attending Harvard. The numbers might have taken a bit of a dip in 2014-15, but Donato showed up to the Crimson ready to play.
“You’re going to hear about Donato just playing for his uncle and dad, nepotism and rah rah rah,” the scout said. “That’s some silly stuff, because whenever he’s been put on the spot, he’s performed. He needed to improve his fitness and conditioning, and he did it. It seems like some go out of their way to knock Ryan because he came out of prep, but he’s done a good job of playing through it and sinking that argument.”
Ryan Donato…or “RyDo” for the 140-character Twitter set if you please…is on the verge of breaking out with the departure of Hobey Baker-winning captain Jimmy Vesey. Who knows? Perhaps Donato will soon see Vesey at a Boston training camp in a few years, perhaps not. You wouldn’t blame him one bit if the Scituate native threw his own hat in the ring with his former Crimson teammate and pride of North Reading to try and convince him to stick closer to home, but with Vesey moving on, Donato is primed for a bigger role in his sophomore year.
And when it comes to big, Sherman is right in the middle of the conversation. Watch for him to log major minutes and much expanded usage in his final two seasons at Harvard.
RyDo and the Sherman tank are eager to take another big step forward, and with the two already having been teammates at the NCAA level, they’d love nothing more than to keep it all going when the time comes to turn pro.
“Great player and even better guy,” Donato said. And if you asked Sherman, the feeling is probably mutual.