If you’ve heard of Dante Salituro, you likely know that he’s one of the most underrated players in the draft. He’s undersized. He loses a lot of battles in his own zone. He can’t hang with the big boys.
But actually, Dante Salituro is one heck of a hockey player.
Salituro, 18, was drafted 18th overall in the 2012 OHL Draft by the Ottawa 67’s. An intriquing, young prospect, Salituro’s 91 point season with the Don Mills Flyers Minor Midget AAA team in 2011-2012, trailing Robby Fabbri by just four points for first place in the GTHL scoring race despite playing 20 less games (Fabbri played 50, Salituro suited up for 30).
His offensive prowess led the 67’s to sign him to a deal almost right away. His 16 year-old OHL season was fairly impressive for a rookie, scoring 40 points in 64 games for the weak Ottawa 67’s team, good for seventh in rookie scoring during the 2012-2013 season. In terms of the 2015 NHL Draft, Salituro’s 40 points were good for second that year in rookies getting drafted into the NHL, with Connor McDavid’s 66 points taking the cake two seasons ago. His strong effort saw Salituro land on Team Canada’s Ontario squad for the Under-17’s, finishing tied for 11th in scoring after potting eight points in just five games.
Salituro’s output in his second OHL season would be even more impressive. Often considered to be one of the top three players on the ice in every game, Salituro would wrap up his draft+1 year with a 59 point season, sitting 11 points behind potential first rounder Travis Konecny for the team scoring lead.
It wasn’t until the 2014-2015 season that Salituro really took off, however. Playing under new coach Jeff Brown, Salituro continued to get better in every single game, this time taking over the 67’s scoring lead thanks to a 78 point season. In fact, his points-per-game average was nearly 1.3 in the second half of the season (per Todd Cordell), a steady improvement of almost 0.3 from the first half.
Salituro, 5’8, 185 lbs, will beat you with his speed and he’ll make you look silly with his skill. Many of his 37 goals in the OHL this year came as a result of blasting through all three zones before making a quick deke in front of the net. For a guy with his top end speed, it’s hard to knock Salituro off the puck, making sure to penalize you by using his dangerous wrist shot to embarrass you’re star goaltender. With the puck, his ability to somehow find an open lane through tight situations is uncanny. Let’s not forget about his face-off power, winning many duels in the dot when victories in that category are more important than ever.
Even with his small frame, Salituro is not afraid to get involved in a little bit of physical contact, and while he does need to add some more strength to his game, he makes up for it with his pure, natural skill. One of his weak links does come in the defensive zone, however, as coach Brown tends to let him start more in the offensive zone, which plays more to his style anyways.
With more and more teams embracing the skill of smaller players, Salituro could become a decently targeted player in the later rounds of the draft. No one is questioning his skill, but a lot of the focus on him has been on his lack of size. For that reason alone, Salituro could find himself slipping quickly in the draft order later this month. It’s very possible that the Don Mills, ON. native could find himself selected as high as the third round, giving any team that drafts him a potential steal in the next few years. Salituro will head back to Ottawa next season, and will likely finish his full OHL eligibility before making the jump to the AHL. Once he focuses on building upon his core strength, Salituro will become a very well-rounded player that opposing teams will be kicking themselves over for missing out on.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter @StevenEllisNHL.
Photo from Terry Wilson/OHL Images.