There might not be a single player eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft that has had more opportunity to learn the game of hockey growing up than Dexter School forward Ryan Donato.
His father, Ted, is the head coach of Harvard University and is retired from an NHL career that saw him play in 796 games. The younger Donato has taken advantage of every chance to pick up tidbits of information that will make him a better hockey player.
"Growing up with my dad as the coach at Harvard, I've had a lot of opportunity to hang out with the players and kind of learn from them," Donato told SBNation at the CCM/All-American Prospects Game in September.
"I learned my work ethic from hanging around the older players at Harvard," added Donato, who also visited Boston College and Boston University before deciding on the Crimson."They're obviously both great schools with great hockey programs."
He said his father has helped him with his hockey acumen, but it's been more about a simple life message that can also be applied on the ice sheet.
"My dad's one message has always been to not give up. He bounced around and got traded, but he just kept working and didn't quit," said Donato.
Donato, who played split season midget hockey for Boston College alum Andrew Orpik with the Cape Cod Whalers, is committed to play hockey for his father at Harvard where he will play with several other high-profiled prospects such as Sean Malone, Jimmy Vesey and Alexander Kerfoot.
The family connections don't end there. His uncle, Dan Donato, is his prep school head coach at Dexter. Despite what some people might think about it being difficult to play for a family member, his uncle and coach say that it isn't hard to separate the family time from hockey time.
"I'm loyal to my brother [Ted] and my nephew [Ryan], but when we're at the rink I treat him like any other player," said Dan, who is also the admissions director at the Brookline, Mass. prep school.
Like his uncle, Ryan knows how to separate the hockey rink from the rest of his life. "Nobody is a better kid. He's a special kid off the ice, but he's super competitive on the ice," said Dan.
That was evident in Pittsburgh back in September and during the prep season. Ryan Donato plays with an edge and has an extremely high compete level, but he is also very smart about it. His hockey IQ is off the charts.
"There were a lot of scouts here. It was my chance to show that I can compete with guys from the CHL and USHL," said Donato, who was a late addition. "I really started getting attention after my play at the Beantown Classic," said Donato, of the summer showcase.
"He always knows where his teammates are around him. He's a great player who makes everyone around him better. He gives the team a boost," said Dan.
Donato doesn't have the speed or hands of some of the high-end players in the draft, but he combines a lot of skills that make him a unique player to defend against.
"His hands and vision are what separates him from the rest. His hands are as good as anyone I've ever seen at the high school level," said Dan. "He has a good, quick release, but his passing is also very good."
Donato led all of prep school hockey in scoring this past winter, finding the back of the net 37 times and adding 41 assists for 78 points.
Some will scoff at the gaudy numbers, and as Donato admits, the competition at the prep school level isn't as good as juniors. However, he was a marked man and was targeted by his opponents. "He was always taking a beating," said Dan.
Donato, who said he considered playing in either the BCHL or USHL, explained another positive of playing prep school hockey is the opportunity to play in all situations. "I play five-on-five, short-handed and on the power play."
Donato concedes that his weakness is his skating ability, but said he is continuing to work on that part of his game. "I've been working on my skating and I will continue to work on my skating and trying to get off to a quicker stride."
There have been some rumors that Donato would accelerate and join Harvard a year earlier than expected, but his uncle said that is incorrect. "He'll finish at Dexter. Harvard isn't one of those schools that you can just show up. He'll play the prep school season and probably play some games in the USHL before and after."
Donato, likely to go somewhere towards the end of the second or in the third round, will probably be a four-year player at Harvard, but the right team that is willing to let him develop in college will have a player with a high compete level and a great mind for the game.
"It's been a privilege watching him play and coaching him these past few years. I look forward to seeing him continue to play at the next level," said Dan.
Central Scouting Final Ranking: 58
Hometown: Boston, Mass.
2013-14 Team: Dexter School (New England Prep)
2014-15 Team: Dexter School (New England Prep)
Strengths: Extremely high hockey IQ and compete level, strong, dominant in traffic, good hands and vision
Weaknesses: Not the fastest skater around, lack of competition hurts his stock in minds of some scouts
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSports.