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Analysis: Kraken’s addition of Ryan Donato could shake up bottom-six forwards

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 14, 2021

San Jose Sharks center Ryan Donato (16) attempts a shot on Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Las Vegas.  (Associated Press)
San Jose Sharks center Ryan Donato (16) attempts a shot on Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Las Vegas. (Associated Press)
By Marisa Ingemi Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Quietly, the Kraken made a roster move over the weekend that could shape how they look in their bottom six.

On Sunday, the team added forward Ryan Donato to a one-year deal worth $750,000. Notably, it’s a one-way deal; the team is anticipating him to be in the NHL.

Left unprotected by the Sharks, there was speculation he’d be who the Kraken took in the expansion draft in July. Instead, the Kraken opted for Alexander True. Donato was unqualified as a restricted free agent in San Jose and was free to test the open market.

“Ryan’s hockey sense and ability to contribute on the scoresheet are two ingredients we are excited to add to our forward group,” general manager Ron Francis said in a statement. “We like his offensive potential and believe he can add scoring depth.”

Once a top prospect in Boston, Donato burst onto the scene with nine points in his first 12 NHL games in 2017-18. He appeared to be on the fast track to solve a seemingly endless shortage of scoring wingers for the Bruins, but in his second year he stagnated with nine points in 34 games.

The Bruins moved on, sending him to Minnesota at the trade deadline for Charlie Coyle, who helped lead them to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Meanwhile, Donato broke through with more ice time and especially power-play time, netting 16 points in 22 games for the remainder of the season.

He scored a career-high 14 goals the next season for a Wild team in transition, then went to the Sharks last season. He posted 20 points, and his shooting percentage dipped to a career-low 5.8%.

Just 25 years old and a shoot-first type of player the Kraken have lacked, Donato has a good chance to make the roster. He struggled to crack the top six with a sluggish offensive Sharks squad, leading to San Jose declining to tender a $2.15 million qualifying offer in the summer.

“I’m really excited to get out there (to Seattle). I think they have a great thing going,” Donato said. “As a new organization, there’s a lot of excitement around it. It’s exciting and I knew from the start I wanted to be a part of it.”

Perhaps, for the third time in his career, a fresh start can be what he needs. Especially because the expectation has likely shifted from him developing into an elite scorer to just being a roster player, he could have a role with the Kraken, particularly on the power play.

His ceiling is a serviceable depth scorer and another wing who has the ability to shift over to center if needed, and the Kraken have lacked depth there, especially while Yanni Gourde is out.

Donato isn’t someone who will be on the ice in the final 5 minutes to protect a one-goal lead, and he likely won’t break into the top six unless his shooting percentage improves, but he’s a solid offensive specialist and has shown a history of being a good setup player for his linemates as well.

Donato’s scoring the past two seasons projects higher than those of any other Kraken bottom-six forward. That means Riley Sheahan and Nathan Bastian will have to battle for roles, and it’s not great news for Carsen Twarynski and Alexander True or anyone else on a two-way contract. Donato is also good competition for Morgan Geekie, who had been projected as a lock in the bottom six. Now it’ll be a bit more challenging.

As much as the Kraken still is missing probably one more scorer in the top six, the bottom of the lineup is showing depth. Donato likely has a higher ceiling than a lot of others in the mix but has to rebound from a bad showing that cost him a contract in San Jose.

“I know how difficult it can be going into a new group,” said Donato. “Everybody here is doing that. So I think everybody’s going to make a real effort to get to know each other and that’ll make it good. I’m going to come into camp and show what I’ve been working on all summer and bring it.”

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