Ryan Donato could begin playoffs as healthy scratch

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Photo credit Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Bruins rookie Ryan Donato managed to go from the Olympics, back to Harvard, and then right to the NHL, and did so without skipping a beat, in about a month’s time.

But Game 1 of a first-round series against the Maple Leafs this Thursday at TD Garden may see Donato move from the ice of his hometown rink to the press box as a healthy scratch, as there may simply not be enough room for the 21-year-old in the B’s lineup.

“He could be out,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, who used Donato as the spare forward at Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, admitted 48 hours before puck drop.

Using the final week-plus of the season to see where exactly Donato could fit into their lineup -- he played on his off-side on Boston’s second line, skated in various bottom-six roles, and even finished his year as a third-line center -- it’s the return of the 33-year-old Rick Nash that could apparently throw Donato up to level nine in a suit and tie.

“Without going through every scenario, let’s say Rick Nash is in,” Cassidy began, “Rick Nash is a power-play guy in front and did very well there for us. Did very well with New York, very well in Columbus, so we’re not worried about the drop-off there.

“He’s going up with [David] Krejci, and we like [Jake] DeBrusk back there. So now there’s a very proven replacement — we say replacement, I don’t think that’s a fair word to use here — there, so that’s where Ryan could lose his spot.”

Nash, out for the final 12 games of the season due to a concussion suffered Mar. 17, looks ‘good to go’ for action after a week-plus of skating. (Nash has started wearing a tinted visor again, too, saying that it can help him adjust to the brightness of a rink.) An obvious second line fit with Krejci and DeBrusk, with chances galore as a three-man unit, Nash had recorded three goals and six points in 11 games with the Bruins prior to his concussion. 

And to Cassidy, it’s not as simply as just sliding Donato down to the bottom six.

“So then it becomes well we can drop [Donato] down in the lineup, but we like our fourth line so now it’s a question of is it him, [David] Backes and [Danton] Heinen [on the third line]?” Cassidy said. “Is it [Noel] Acciari back in? Or once [Tommy] Wingels goes back in? And the last part of it is how many young guys do you think can do into the lineup at once and can we sustain our level of play because it is the second season?

“We factor all of those in, and that’s where it’s going to come down to.”

But potentially scratching a player that’s stepped in and contributed five goals and nine points in just 12 NHL games seems can come across as a tough sell.

That’s why Cassidy is refusing to commit to anything -- be it his Game 1 lineup, or even his Game 2 lineup, when adjustments will surely need to be made -- just yet. 

“We’ve talked to guys about [not playing in the playoffs],” Cassidy continued. “They may or may not be in. They’ll be disappointed, but just make sure you’re ready to go ‘cause the lineup isn’t set in stone from one game to the other.”

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