Best and Worst Bruins Draft Picks 1-30; 1963-2019


I recently posted this to the Bruins sub-Reddit- and thought it deserved a place on my blog.

Took a swing at the Boston Bruins historical draft choices, analyzing the team’s selections since the NHL implemented a rudimentary draft system 56 years ago. Bear in mind that in the pre-1969 years, the draft was different- starting in 1963 thru 1978 it was called the amateur draft before changing to the NHL Entry Draft in 1979 when the teams were allowed to draft 18-year-olds. With fewer teams in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, selections outside of 10-20 were 2nd round or later, but for purpose of exercise, I’m going to look at picks 1-30 and call it like I see it.

I’m bucking convention by starting out with 1st overall and work up to 30- in a lot of cases, the early selections for the B’s have not been kind, but in full context- most of the time the team was picking 3-7, it came in the days before the current draft system. And because the B’s had made the playoffs from 1968-97, unless they owned bad teams’ 1st rounders, they rarely got a chance to pick inside the top-10 during that time frame.

1- Best: Joe Thornton, 1997: 1st ballot HHOFer- nuf ced; Trading him opened the door for Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to join the B’s in 2006, but he’s been everything Jumbo Joe was projected to be as a teen titan with the Soo Greyhounds in 1997. He just turned 40 in July, which, given the shaggy, golden-locked kid who showed up in Boston 22 years ago at not quite 18, seems impossible to square with the grizzled graybeard who has been with the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade and a half.

Worst: Barry Gibbs, 1966: Journeyman defenseman. He at least played in the NHL to the tune of 796 career games, most of them not with the Bruins. However, Gibbs leads the No. 1 overall bust hit parade not because of what he did, but because of the player who was selected right behind him at No. 2 in ’66 by the NY Rangers. Wait for it…Brad Park. Can you imagine Bobby Orr and Brad Park together on the Boston blue line? It actually happened for a handful of games right before Orr left for the Windy City, but had they been able to play together in their primes, we’re talking at least 2 more Stanley Cups in that era. Yikes. (H/T to Reddit user Timeless_Watch for pointing this out- I moved Kluzak down to HM)

HM: Gord Kluzak, 1982: Oh what could have been? What if…B’s had drafted Brian Bellows or Scott Stevens there instead of Kluzak? Kluzak had knee injuries in junior hockey days and then got blown up in his 2nd NHL season- without the technology to repair knees that we have today, it doomed him to being day-to-day for the rest of his career and an early retirement. He should have been a long-tenured NHL defenseman, but it didn’t happen for him, and unfortunately, he’s more of a footnote in Bruins lore, which is unfortunate.

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RyDo n’ the (Sherman) Tank- B’s find promise in Harvard duo

Ryan Donato

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.





The son also rises: Ryan Donato

If he’s gotten lost in the shuffle a bit from David Pastrnak’s rapid path to the NHL and a ten-selection draft one year after the Bruins took him in the second round, Harvard freshman Ryan Donato is doing his part to shine.

The son of his Crimson coach and former Catholic Memorial and Harvard hockey star-turned-Boston Bruin (796 NHL games played with the B’s, Islanders, Ducks, Kings, Stars, Blues and Rangers before going back to Boston to finish his career in 2004)  the 56th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft is having a terrific 2016, and we’re only in mid February.

To whit:

  • Donato not only made the Team USA 2016 World Jr. squad, but helped the Americans salvage a disappointing semifinal loss to Russia with a resounding bronze medal game victory with a two-goal thumping over the Czech Republic.
  • He played in his first Beanpot hockey tournament after years as a spectator and scored his first goal of that storied tournament, checking two big boxes off of his personal hockey bucket list. Next stop: Win the darn thing and complete the usurpation of Boston College or Boston University for the first time since 1993, three full years before Donato was born. His dad won a Beanpot as a player- in 1989- the same year Donato and his Harvard Crimson mates went on to win the NCAA championship- but doing so as a head coach has thus far eluded him.
  • Donato scored his first career NCAA hat trick over the weekend, his 8th, 9th and 10th goals of the season to get to double digits. For any freshman, that’s a solid achievement but better things are surely in store for the Scituate, Mass. native.

The oldest of Ted and Jeannine Donato’s four talented (and highly competitive) kids comes from impressive athletic stock. Everyone knows about his dad’s NHL pedigree, but his mother played college soccer at Villanova, and her brother, Matt McLees, is a former NFL linebacker with the Cleveland Browns. His son and Ryan’s cousin, Tyler McLees, is a senior at West Point and the captain of the USMA Black Knights varsity wrestling squad.

At this stage of his development, it’s pretty fair to say that Donato is living up to the immense promise that saw his hometown team call his name in Philadelphia with the second of just five total draft picks after a standout career of prep hockey at Dexter School in Brookline, where he skated under his uncle, Dan Donato (who played hockey at Boston University and was a pro baseball player after college).

Ryan Donato has been an impact player in his first year of ECAC competition, in many respects validating the faith his hometown team has in him to one day be a part of the solution in Boston.

“One thing I notice is just paying attention in practice,” he told the Scouting Post blog. “I think one of the biggest things is being a student of the game. There are a lot of things you learn from playing at this level, and a lot of things that the upperclassmen, the older guys- the seniors and juniors can teach you and a lot of the experiences and knowledge that the coaches have. That’s the biggest thing at this level- making sure you’re doing the little things right and I think everything pays off if you pay attention to the things that matter.”

Donato is looking forward to being a part of another potential Harvard run to the ECAC championship, a berth in the NCAA tournament and competing for a chance to be the first Crimson (on only) team to win a national title since 1989. That year, his dad was the NCAA tournament MVP and finished fifth in team scoring with 14 goals and 51 points in 34 games.

“I think there are a lot of guys who really want it, we really want it” Donato said of a veteran group that has the firepower to do some damage if Harvard can come together at the right time. “The difference with our team is that we have a lot of great depth and guys who are sitting out, but every single day they bring it to practice and make sure they’re ready to go for the playoffs. Guys like Jimmy Vesey, Kyle Criscuolo…learning from those guys. Honestly, it’s one of the best things I have to say- it’s an unbelievable opportunity.”

His stats line is a respectable one- 10 goals and 16 points in 23 games with Harvard, good for fourth place behind seniors Vesey and Criscuolo and junior center Alexander Kerfoot. This follows on the heels of being Dexter’s top scorer in that hockey program’s history. If his experience at this month’s Beanpot is any indication, Harvard could be in pretty good hands come 2017 when Donato and company will get another shot at bringing the trophy to Cambridge.

“Honestly, before (the games) I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous because I knew that all of my friends and family were going to be there,” said Donato. “It was something special from the beginning, and I think I’ve been going to the (Beanpot) games for 14 years or a long, long time. I think just getting on the ice for the first time, I had a pit in my stomach going around in warmups. Hopefully, this (the TD Garden) can be my home and after scoring the first goal, I enjoyed the feeling of getting one there and I hope I’ll have other opportunities.

“The Beanpot was such a great tournament but there weren’t many great results for us, but hopefully over the next couple of years, we’ll have a Beanpot title. It’s kind of a whirlwind at the beginning for your first Beanpot because you don’t really know what to expect. Being a Boston boy there are a lot more nerves that go into it beforehand as opposed to maybe a Minnesota guy who doesn’t know what the Beanpot is about.”

However, even with production of more than 200 career points at prep level, there were whispers about him dominating the competition level and how long it might take him to make an impact in the NCAA without being challenged over a full season of junior hockey.

“If there were any doubts about (Donato) after his senior year at Dexter I think they’re pretty minimal now,” said one New England-based NHL scout from an Eastern Conference team. “He put in the (offseason) work and made sure he was ready to go right out of the gate. I think making the World Jr. team was a big statement for him- he beat out some bigger name guys to make the squad and it did wonders for his confidence. We’re seeing it more and more, and he looks like a player who is going to be a key part of his team at Harvard going forward.”

The WJC experience of competing against the top under-20 talent in the world and coming home with a bronze medal certainly framed 2016 in a positive manner for Donato.

“It was a blast, obviously,” he said of his time with Team USA in Helsinki. “The guys I met and played with and against were unbelievable players on the ice and unbelievable people off the ice. I think the coaching staff was great as well- Coach Chelios definitely helped me along the way. He was our ‘D’ coach but was a special guy and influence on all of us just by the way he carried himself around the rink. I’m hoping that just by the way he acts around the rink and with the players is something I can emulate.”

He admitted to having an open mind for the WJC training camp and selection process, not taking anything for granted, especially since he was not a graduate of the U.S. National Team Development Program (Donato did play a few games with the NTDP as an augmentation to the roster and competed in the Under-18 Four Nations tourney in Turku, Finland in November of 2013).

“Going into the tryouts I was kind of nervous because I wasn’t sure what kind of style it would be,” he said. “But I think the NCAA and especially the ECAC is a pretty hard-nosed style with a lot of hitting- some nights, it’s like a wrestling match below the dots. So, when I went there, it felt like there was a lot more space. I wouldn’t say it was a softer game (in the IIHF) but more of a finesse game, which I wasn’t as used to but it wasn’t that hard to adjust, but it’s a style of play I’m more comfortable with.”

Donato completed his second development camp with the Bruins last July, taking the experiences he had in 2014 and applying them to get a little more out of his second summer in Wilmington.

“I’ve just been trying to play a solid game, a reliable game,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that the Bruins staff is looking for now, and that is a strong, solid game. Being a strong player physically off the ice and on the ice is something I’ve learned that they’re looking for, and getting stronger off the ice is something I’ve focused on, and making sure I know the systems and play the game the right way.”

Bigger than his dad at around 6-foot-1 in height, he doesn’t quite have the senior Donato’s wheels, but uses his high-end hockey sense to get the jump on opponents and has outstanding puck skills to rack up the offensive production at even strength and on the man advantage. One of the knocks on Donato is that he’s lacking in foot speed enough to maximize his impressive hands and head. However, that is not a consensus view in the scouting community.

“I think some people make an issue of his skating where there isn’t much of one in my opinion,” the scout said. “He may not have his dad’s speed, but he’s bigger and is heavier on the puck than Teddy was. I sometimes get the feeling that if it wasn’t for the fact that his father’s calling card was that pure speed, you wouldn’t hear about it being an issue as much with Ryan. Having said that, there’s room for improvement- he can pick up a couple of steps and it’s something he continues to work on.”

When the Bruins drafted Donato in 2014, everyone knew he was a long-term project who would need ample time to grow and mature as a player before he was ready to try and follow in his NHL father’s footsteps. A little less than two years later, that steady growth and development is evident with the 19-year-old, as he has already made an impact and added to his family’s legacy at Harvard.

“Being drafted by Boston was a symbol of all the work that I would have to put in over the coming years,” said Donato. “Things that the team wanted me to work on since then is my body and getting stronger and learning how to play the game right. I think that’s one of the biggest things for the transition that coaches have said for players is making sure they play the game of hockey the right way.”

And how, exactly, does Donato describe that in his own words?

“I think it’s all about doing the little things that will make the difference both on the ice and off the ice,” he said.  “I’ve seen that it pays off in college and will hopefully pay off in the NHL one day.”

Here’s the New England Hockey Journal show episode on Ryan Donato after he was drafted by Boston– it’s worth sitting down and watching in its entirety if you haven’t seen it.