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Ryan Donato of the Blackhawks is poised to “fill whatever role is required” on the front row

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

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

“He was full of energy,” said Donato. “We spent a lot of time in Seattle taking him everywhere, to the dog parks and that sort of thing. We’re a bit spoiled out there, but we’re going to have fun in Chicago too.”

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

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

While Moose tries to find a place in Chicago to tire himself out, Donato won’t have the same problem at the United Center.

The Hawks signed him to a two-year (with a $2 million salary cap) hourly contract to free agency July 1 considering his versatility. General manager Kyle Davidson in particular likes Donato’s ability to play all three forward positions — and do so in different lanes.

“I’ve learned to do it the hard way,” says Donato. “I have to adapt… because sometimes other people are in the situations I want them to be in, and I have to learn to play in other situations to get my playing time. Now that I’ve adapted and learned, I feel I can be even more valuable to some teams in the sense that I can fill whatever role is required.”

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

He brings a nice goalscoring touch – he’s scored 16 and 14 goals in Kraken’s two seasons and has a career shooting percentage of 10.1% – while producing shots, again, at a very consistent rate. He has averaged between 15.3 and 16.1 attempted shots per 60 minutes five-on-five each of the last four seasons – more than anyone in the 2022-23 Hawks.

Defensively, Donato allowed 26.5 scoring chances per 60 five-on-five the last two seasons, which is below average among Kraken forwards but would rank him among the best Hawks forwards. He did it with a rotating lineman, too, spending no more than 44% of the five-on-five ice time with one teammate up front.

“Everyone on our team contributes in Seattle,” he says. “Hopefully I look forward to doing the same in Chicago and maybe even taking on more responsibility.”

Granted, he likely would have had a significant increase in ice time over the 11:15 average last season. To prepare for that, he worked a second straight offseason with figure skating coach Zach Longo, who also served as Harvard’s director of hockey operations.

Longo focused Donato’s attention on the inside and outside of his skates and, in doing so, perfected his skating stride.

“It really breaks down into two components,” Longo said. “Edgework helps quickly, turns sharply and stops quickly. And on top of that, you need to push your inner self as you take off to take a step. That’s where it joins the straight line, ice above [skating].

“One thing he has really improved on is his strength. He is very strong in the gym. He put up a good number. It was really about translating the strength he had in the gym into his skating.”

That skating contributed to his effectiveness in all arenas. He can make minor maneuvers along walls to win puck fights, and he can also join rushes—or go back to sustain a rush—at speed.

“In terms of being an all-rounder, it’s on Ryan,” added Longo. “His work ethic is second to none and that’s why he is here. He really took ownership of its development. He took big steps last year and he looks forward to continuing to take big steps this year.”

Donato racked up three points in three games for Kraken against the Blackhawks last season.

File photo Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Donato claims to be equally comfortable on every front position, but one concern if the Hawks put him in the middle is contention – which is likely to be the team’s problem this season with the departures of Jonathan Toews and Max Domi.

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

“To be honest, I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “You could ask any guy who’s ever seen me train face-to-face: I’m pretty good, especially when I keep training. It is just [that] sometimes I faceoff for one game, and then don’t faceoff for 10 games, and then faceoff for two games. It’s wildly inconsistent in that sense. But if I consistently play center… I don’t think I’ll have any problems.”

While training for the upcoming season, Donato is back in his hometown on the Massachusetts coast, indulging in his favorite hobbies playing golf and fishing. This time last year, he was still a free agent, had yet to re-sign with Kraken; he is grateful he survived only a few hours of tense uncertainty this summer.

In an alternate universe, spending his entire career in Boston would have been nice, but he’s 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.

“Right now, a lot of guys are playing all over the place,” he said. “He [because of] the way the hat lies. Obviously I wanted to, in Chicago, stay there for a long time and have a great career there. But [because of] I’ve been on a few teams, and I’ve used that experience to learn from people I’ve met over the years: different players I’ve played with, different coaches I’ve had.

“They are all trying to improve my game to get one of those contracts where I can be in the team for more than two seasons.”

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