By Samuel Dummer
HAMILTON BULLDOGS, OHL
POSITION: D HAND: L
HEIGHT: 6’2” WEIGHT: 181 LBS
The start of the OHL season is tonight. Fans around the province are beginning to reach into the depths of their dresser drawers or closets. They reach for the comforting feel of their favourite team’s jersey, forgotten by all but the most die-hard fans for well over a year. Whether it dons the name of a player recently enlisted to aid the team or one that has long moved on. In the streets of Hamilton jerseys are seen and the chatter is beginning to develop on the state of the team and what could lie ahead in the upcoming OHL season.
The previous OHL season, last played some 500 plus days ago, had left long-time fans of the team a little disappointed. It may have left newer fans already questioning their fresh loyalty to the team. Going from a Championship winner, to being 14th of a 20-team league in less time than an average junior player’s career can have that kind of effect on a fanbase.
While this seemed to be on a fast swing to the downside, like a forgotten stock buried in the depths of an exchange, they may just find the potential to find their support again and bounce back with the strength to find themselves on the return path to another strong season.
By using their high draft pick effectively in 2020 and selecting Jorian Donovan, from the Kanata Lasers, sixth overall in the first round, the path to finding that potential may have just been made a little clearer with the addition of their new pup. He brings with him a new bark and a little more bite to the team of grown dogs. The fanbase has been chomping at the bit to see what this kid can do, and it is only a short time now before they can really see what he brings to the table. With optimism around the choice, the fanbase can believe that their new “toy” is built tough. He won’t be torn and chewed quickly, left to spend his days laying under the couch.
Team president Steve Staios has high hopes for the team, as he should with some of the new talents he has brought aboard. Staios strongly believes the team should be one to watch this season and should be competitive in the league. The new young pups should be a big part of that move up the ranks too.
“We feel very comfortable with where the group is, I mean we haven’t seen them in 18 months, we feel confident that we have the depth and the character to be very good.” When asked if he felt Donovan would have a large part to play in the competitiveness of the team, Staios didn’t hesitate to point it out, “Without a doubt.”
When it comes to first-round pick Donovan, Staios has a boatload of confidence in the young player and holds him in high regard. Based on my conversations with the player, and Staios’ feelings about him, I think it’s safe to say that Jorian should be a promising prospect with a great professional attitude.
“We don’t pass go here in Hamilton on drafting players without knowing what the character of the individual is. Jorian’s a 10 out of 10. Incredible enthusiasm for the game, respectful young man, high work ethic, very, very strong student as well, so incredibly well rounded and highly motivated.”
Donovan has spent his entire life loving the game of Hockey. His father, Shean Donovan, was a former NHL hockey player with a career spanning 15 years and 7 teams. He was considered a hard-working player, a team-first kind of guy, and a penalty kill specialist.
When it comes to developing a work ethic, learning how to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and keeping the needs of the team above the needs of yourself, there are few better teachers to learn from than a man who specialized in all of it.
“Every time my dad would make a mistake in a game, he would use the phrase “park it”. This would help him reset himself to be in the right mindset for the next play. Another quote my dad would always say is that “if you want to have success in the sport of hockey, you have to hate losing more than you like winning.” I have taken this quote with me to every game I play, and I use this when I play anything from cards to Ping-Pong to Hockey. I always play by this quote.” Says Donovan about one of his dad’s favourite lines.
Developing under the watchful eye and directive hand of his father, Jorian Donovan has become an intelligent young player. He is one to keep an eye on as the season progresses, heading into the 2022 NHL Draft.
“Having a dad that played hockey, he was a huge role model for me to follow in his footsteps to become a player at a young age. I believe that having a dad with that NHL experience is always a tool to use when I need help. I don’t think it’s tougher to play with my dad having that experience because he always has helpful advice that will keep me in line to fulfill my goals.”
Not only was Donovan able to turn to his dad for hockey advice at home, but he had a hands-on experience of his dad’s hockey knowledge and ability to teach the game. Shean Donovan would use his wealth of experience and pass it on to the next generation, to his son, and all the kids that were lucky enough to play for his teams.
“Having my dad as a coach and someone to look up to in the hockey world has taught me many useful and handy tricks to use while I’m playing. It started with how I taped my stick “black tape from the heel to just before the toe” to how my mindset should be on the ice.”
Donovan was born in Calgary but spent most of his childhood in the Ottawa area.
“I first started hockey sometime around the age of 4 in a town named Carp just outside of Ottawa.”
Getting to be around professional NHL players and the Ottawa Senators organization was an experience for Donovan that he remembers fondly and appreciates when looking back.
“Growing up with a dad that played professional hockey, it was always a super fun and cool experience to be around all of the players in the room. I think that the coolest thing about that experience was meeting your favourite players. For example, I have always been a fan of Erik Karlsson when he was in Ottawa, and it was so cool as a young kid to meet someone like that in person.”
Meeting the players isn’t the only thing Donovan took away from his dad’s ties with the Senators. Donovan was sure to learn from the best and continue to show his understanding of the inner workings of the sport. He paid attention to some of the things that would have flown over the heads of many kids and teenagers in a similar position.
“It is also very cool to see how a team works as a coaching staff. As a player, you usually don’t understand all of the behind-the-scenes hard work the coaches put in to have a good system. Also, seeing how scouts look for people and what they see in a player with no filters.”
As Donovan so effectively pointed out, there are many boxes that scouts must check off on a young player looking to take the next step. Size, mobility, playmaking ability, hockey IQ, etc.; when it comes to Jorian, the Hamilton Bulldogs may have found a defenseman with all the boxes checked, and then some.
DraftPro scout Matt Morrison likes what he sees from Donovan so far. He thinks the player still has some work to do but seems to believe he’s a player with solid leadership potential and a strong two-way game.
“Jorian Donovan is a weird prospect in the fact he doesn’t have a specialty skill that makes him stand out. Instead, he is your reliable two-way defender that plays the game with a high IQ. Not overly offensive but has some untapped potential, scoring from the blue line especially. He has good footwork and can create space for himself and others with his skating ability. Really good first pass and solid under pressure. (He) can play physical but needs to bring his compete level on a shift-to-shift basis. Strong leader that should develop into a smart two-way defender.”
The canceled OHL season last year made it difficult to get good looks at players like Donovan. His games were limited, and ice time was restricted. Head Scout Jared Brown has had a limited view of Jorian, but when chatting with him quickly over direct messages, he seems to have come to similar conclusions in his assessments of the player.
“Donovan is an active, smooth-skating defenseman that can lead the transition using his feet to transport the puck. He looked to have a bit of a mean side with strong physical play when playing man-on-man defense. He shows confidence as a puck carrier” said Brown.
Donovan has the size to be a driving force on the blue line. Standing at 6’2” and weighing in at a lean 181lbs, the defenceman is already playing with the body of a full-grown man and yet is still young with room to grow. Physically speaking, Donovan is growing into everything a hockey team would be looking for. His long limbs and big body, allow him to get his stick in passing lanes and clear out any opposing net-front presence. His body on the ice does not look out of place in any way, and he should not have much to worry about in terms of his physical attributes in the game. He is learning how to use his body against the boards and beginning to develop the ability to protect the puck when playing a possession game.
His game could use a little more consistent aggression and he could learn to use his weight to really lean in on opposing players. His shots could also use a little more weight. The right eating plan and workout schedule could put the young man well on his way to being a top-tier prospect for any team. He is a desirable choice for anyone on the hunt for a long and strong left-handed defenseman.
Donovan is aware of his shortcomings and is working hard on improving them. He knows the parts of his game that can carry him through and where he needs to improve the most. His open and honest response was actually a little surprising and deserves a little recognition. He was more than willing to offer up his thoughts on his own development openly,
“My biggest strength I would say is my skating ability and my hockey sense. I have always been a really good skater so I have used it to build my game around. My biggest weakness on the ice would probably be my shot and strength. I have always had a weaker shot since I was young. It has been a big focus point for me this season over the summer. I said my strength because when you are a younger guy playing against bigger older guys, you want to make sure you have the strength and fitness to battle with the older guys. Training in the gym hard this summer to get my weight and strength up was a huge focus point for me so I can have the most successful season.”
At only 17, Donovan is proving to have the work ethic he needs to make the push to the NHL. Not only is he aware of where he needs to improve, but he is willing to put in the hours and work needed to make the improvements.
“A general training session for me will be 1.5-2 hours and would consist of a mobility and activations warm up. Then we will work on some speed and balance movement to work on quickness. Next, we will move on to some heavy lifting like cleans, bench, squats, and others. Finally, we will end off with a core or conditioning circuit.”
Getting better is something Donovan takes seriously and seems to enjoy doing, “Training has always been really important to me, and I always take a lot of pride in it. I am usually on the ice 4-5 times a week, either doing skills or team skates for 1-2 hours and sometimes more if I can get the ice. But I spend a lot of my time in the gym, usually 5 times a week, working on strength and speed. When I get home, I like to work on my skills off-ice, like my shot and hands. Also, I like to have video after my games and throughout the week to work on defensive positioning.”
It would look clear that the hard work ethic and team-first mentality of his dad is shining through the younger Donovan after all. It is not only the weight room that he puts in the work, like White Goodman would say in the movie Dodgeball, Donovan “likes to break a mental sweat too.” Donovan is currently listening to two audiobooks, and they may not be what you would think to expect a teenager to be reading. His drive for success and dedication shines through strongly with what he spends his time on.
“I have really been enjoying the audiobook called Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins and the audiobook called Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success by James Wooden”
Both books are focused on improving your mental state and attitude, as well as building the foundation for a successful future. Neither book is usually the kind you find in the hands or ears, of a 17-year-old. The drive and work ethic are there. It’s up to his skillset and scout opinions now.
These aren’t just the words of a teenager either. All the things Donovan said about his training routines and work ethic are ecstatically confirmed by Staois and the Bulldogs’ Management team.
“I think we’re even more impressed. The practice habits, things that we couldn’t see on a day-to-day basis, you know, his commitment in the gym. His enthusiasm for each rep and practice. He’s even more than what we thought he was.”
The Hamilton Bulldogs are currently pleased to work with the player, and they will continue to develop his skills. Hopefully, they will be able to bring out the best of him; draw out the maximum potential of the young defender, and howl in solidarity as they watch him chase the flashing lights of the NHL.
“He’s the best defense prospect that I’ve had the ability to draft in all my time here in Hamilton. He is the best defenseman prospect we’ve seen come through. I don’t see any holes in his game, he’s an elite skater, he’s got range, he’s got a competitive edge, great hockey sense, so I just, again, I think he’s the best defenseman prospect I’ve seen come through this draft” says Staois of the young defenseman.
He doesn’t stop there either. When it comes to Donovan, there was nothing but good things coming from the mouth of management. It can be difficult to find a player that has the skillset and personality that is so easily likable; the Bulldogs seemed to have found their diamond in the rough. The first half of his season leading into his draft, Donovan hadn’t quite hit the radar of a lot of scouts yet, but Staois was ahead of the pack,
“The first moment I saw him to be quite honest, even in the first half of the year. I saw qualities in him that showed me that he’s going to be an elite prospect. You know, I saw his skating ability and the range, I saw the competitiveness on puck battles, and then I think when it really dawned on me with him was just his ability to join the rush at the right time. A lot of these young offensive defenseman prospects, you know, get up in the play and they can do their thing on sheer skill, but his timing was really good and really sort of proved that he had some hockey sense and spatial awareness as well”
When it comes to his strengths, weaknesses, and his scouting report leading up to the OHL draft, it was all good things. And in the time since, Staois still seems blown away by the player,
“Strengths? I can go down a list. Skating would be the first thing that would jump out to anyone, I think. And then, just his hockey sense and compete level as well. I think those are all top class. As far as areas to work on, no different than any high-end and high-skilled prospect coming into our league. There’s stuff that you can get away with, you know, in minor hockey leading up to the Ontario Hockey League. We’re the best development league in the world, and I think just knowing when to use all that skill that he has and being a little more efficient. And that just comes with some game time, you know, so we’re looking forward to seeing him in all situations with us.”
Coming off a championship team before joining the Bulldogs, Donovan has a lot of hockey moments and experiences to help him along the way, “I have tons of favourite hockey moments, so I can’t really pick one. But if I had to pick one, I would say winning with my u18 team the Kanata Lasers last year. I just think we had such a close group and it was so much fun to win with great guys.”
When watching Donovan play, scouts and coaches are quick to point out his skating ability. For a young man in a large body, Donovan seems to have been able to handle the awkward teenage growth years in stride. While many players can be negatively affected by the quick changes a boy’s body can make on its way to being a man, Donvan has seemed to be able to continue his progression without much hindrance.
He has a smooth long stride, his balance and edgework appear to be strong (especially for his age and size), he is not afraid to skate backward with speed and agility, and he has enough foot speed to get back on defense after jumping up to join in on a rush.
With a little more work and dedication to a plan, Donovan could become a defenceman with the elite skating ability to go along with his growing size. His drive to being a great skater could stem from his love of Erik Karlsson, the player Donovan stated to be one of his biggest inspirations for his style of play.
“When I was younger, I loved watching Karlsson and I still watch his highlights and try to model my game off when he was in Ottawa. Now, I love to watch Thomas Chabot and Cale Makar, but I like to model my game off Chabot more because we have similar size and strides.”
Some defencemen prefer to “stay-at-home” and play a strong defensive game. They focus on removing a body from a puck, taking passing lanes away, blocking shots, or not getting embarrassed à la Reilly vs McDavid circa. 2020. Donovan, while generally being a solid and responsible defensive player, does not seem to have that same desire to be leashed to the blue line. With Donovan’s apparent strong skating ability, comes a willingness to join the offense and jump up on the rush. Whenever a desirable opportunity presents itself. Donovan is not afraid to act as a fourth forward when he is able, as he uses his speed and mobility to get back into position when the opportunity has passed by.
Watching his offensive play, his fondness of Karlsson shines through. This play style has done Donovan well enough so far, and if he can continue to develop his confidence and patience with the puck, it should only add to his already deep pockets of potential.
However, on the flip side, maybe pairing him with a typical defensive “stay-at-home” kind of guy, could be a good strategy. The downside of having the confidence to join a rush can naturally lead to a disaster the other way when things do not quite go as planned. It does not take long for a storm to rip through the doghouse when the house has been ill-prepared and left exposed. His tall and long frame should help his defensive game, however, as he can use his reach to clog up the passing lanes in his own end. A little more work on hand-eye and stick checking can do wonders for a long body like Donovan.
As a defenceman, Donovan is not necessarily on the team to fill the net, at least not primarily. His main job is to keep the other guys out of his zone, and away from his own (at least it should be). Whether that be through puck possession or brute force, his focus should always be defense first. Play aggressive, always look to remove bodies from the puck, take away passing lanes, take away space, and above all else; protect the front of the net like a dog and a freshly stripped ham bone.
Donovan does have the ability to put points on the board. His 27 points in 38 games with the Kanata Lasers, does much to show his knack for getting on the score sheet. Whether it be from finding an open man, jumping up on a rush, or rifling a quick shot from the blue line, Donovan’s scoring ability from the back-end will make him a desirable piece for teams looking to improve on their defensive depth. He loves being in positions to produce and will drool over any sort of chances he may get in the offensive zone. While his first focus is and should be, defense; his burning desire to join the pack on a hunt and pounce on the prey in a weak moment is a large part of this player’s on-ice game.
Even with the benefits of having a dad that played in the NHL, it wasn’t that long ago that Donovan was not completely sure that he had a shot at making a career out of it. He flew under the radar for a lot of his developing days, and it wasn’t until one of his most recent years that it really sunk in for him.
“The age that it clicked to me that I might have a chance to make a career out of hockey was my last year of AAA. I had a great year and really saw how I was growing as a player. I always understood that you have to make some sacrifices to make time for what matters most to you, but I always make sure to have a strong social life with the time that I give myself.”
That social life is important for the young developing players of today. The constant pressures of the hockey world and lifestyle can be hard on a kid’s mental state and having that social release should be considered a good thing. So long as they aren’t breaking any rules that is.
Donovan seems to have a strong head on his shoulders and spends his free time much like a lot of teens and young adults would in today’s world, with friends and family if he gets the chance.
“If I had to pick one thing to kill time with outside of hockey, it would be to hang out with my brother. Things we like to do are swim, shoot pucks, play basketball, hang around the farm or watch a movie. Another thing I like to do is have a buddy over. Because I am busy with hockey, I like to use my free time to hang out with friends.”
Donovan, as well as the rest of the new generation of hockey players, also has some other experience that players before them didn’t have to worry about… the Covid-19 sized elephant in the room. Donovan understood that he was in a very lucky situation and that a lot of people around the country didn’t have the same luxuries. He was sure to make clear that he understood the luck he had to be in the situation he is in, and the attitude he carries is a respectable one.
“Over the summer Covid was a big impact on lots of people and lots of hockey players. I was lucky to have a gym and shooting room at my house to be able to still stay in shape, and work on my skills. Also, I was super lucky to have a buddy with his own ODR that I could skate on at the start of the summer.”
Despite it all, Donovan is looking to the 2022 NHL Draft with excitement, nervousness, and an honest look on himself. He didn’t try to over-project himself or overcommit to what he could do. He believes he still needs a little work, but he is ready and open for an opportunity if it were to present itself.
“I think that I am super excited but also nervous for this upcoming NHL draft. Because, if I am lucky enough to be selected, then this is when you can see all of your hard work pay off and your dreams come true. I also believe that if I was lucky enough to be selected, I would still have some things I need to work on to make that next step. But, saying so, I still think that I would be able to make that next step with some time to get stronger and work on my skills as a player.”
Donovan and the Bulldogs will be entering the season with a lot of eyes on them, looking to see what their next move might be. With a pack mentality and the strength of working as a team, it should be a fun season to see what they can put together. Regardless of where the team finishes at the end of the year, where Donovan sits in the changeroom, or if he wears a letter or not; he does like to be the leader in one department, no matter the circumstance.
“I’m not really a superstitious guy, but I have one superstition… I have to be the first person with my helmet on before a game.”
Photo Credit: ProAm Images