Dante Salituro is capitalizing on having a better environment to display his talents.
The Ottawa 67's centre has regularly shown that he can play at a high tempo and compensate for his relatively compact frame, all while possessing one of the quickest releases in the Ontario Hockey League. Now that Ottawa has returned to a modicum of on-ice respectability after their lost years, so-called, of playing in an alien environment at the Canadian Tire Centre, Salituro has become their go-to finish. The 18-year-old scored twice on Sunday against the Barrie Colts — once where he sped into the slot to create a slew of space to wind up and another where he went bar-down from close proximity to beat 6-foot-4 goalie Mackenzie Blackwood — to give him 21 goals in 27 games, tied for third in the league.
"The biggest change is for me is consistently going as hard as I can and playing for my teammates, playing as one unit," says the 5-foot-8¼, 178-pound Salituro, whom NHL Central Scouting listed as a C prospect in November. "The points will come if you're playing right. That comes with age and this being my third year on the team. I really want to win this year. Last year was a little different because we didn't have that mindset
"Coach has made a drastic difference," Salituro, who leads Ottawa with 32 points, says in reference to first-year 67's coach Jeff Brown. "He's got everyone working together and working as hard as we can. We just have to keep it going.
Salituro, who hails from Willowdale, Ont., began to indicate signs of realizing his potential during the second half of last season. While Ottawa was never able to mount a playoff push, he finished second in team scoring with 59 points while playing all 68 games. This season, playing with fellow 18-year-old former first-rounder Jeremiah Addison as his regular left wing, he's been a dangerous attacker on a more regular basis. Since getting his first three goals of the season in Ottawa's home opener on Oct. 10, he has not gone more than two games without tickling the twine. That's an indication of a bona fide scorer.
"You have to generate chances, you have to put it to the net and really put a lot of effort into your shots," Salituro says of his role. "It's a complete mindset thing, too. When you're going, you're going and you just have to keep on going to the net.
"Over the rest of the year I want to work on always playing hard — keep backchecking, keep battling," he adds.
1. Which NHL player do you study closely?
"Obviously Sidney Crosby. Love his puck protection. Love his skill. I love how he competes."
2. One has to have to desire to be successful, but who are some people you really owe your success to?
"I think it's my coaches coming up and my brothers, Matthew and Stefan. They helped me a lot when I was a kid. They pushed me and my parents pushed me. There's a lot of competitiveness in the family and I think it paid off."
3. Who is the toughest defenceman you have faced so far in the OHL?
"It would have to be Darnell Nurse [an Edmonton Oilers first-round pick who is captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds]. He's so big [6-foot-4] and so fast. He's tough to go against."
4. Even though he's younger, does it help to have Travis Konecny on your team, going through a lot of the same experiences as a prospect?
"For sure, we lean on each other and we help each other out when we're down. It's important to have someone to lean on."
5. What is the story behind changing your number from 26 to 96?
"It's just the number I had all growing up in hockey because it's my birth year. We got to use the higher numbers this year so I took it."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.