Salters a straight-line kind of guy

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

First, Mark Hunter put the finishing touches on the biggest OHL trade in 20 years.

Then, after securing the rights to John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto last January, the London Knights GM noted there were still a few hours before the deadline and he wasn't done dealing yet.

That's when he brought in hometown boy Leigh Salters, the big veteran forward who could fight, hit and score, but spent much time in Guelph battling to restore a junior career ravaged by tough breaks.

"In five years of junior hockey, you go through your ups and downs," Salters, 20, said, "and I've had my share. But I've always wanted to keep playing and show what I could do."

So far this season, his last at this level, he has shone through.

There have been nights when Salters has been London's most impressive forward.

He has five goals and 10 points in 16 games and only needs to double that to match his best season with Guelph.

"Different teams have different styles they want to play," Salters said. "In Guelph, defence was first."

In London, he is at his best driving to the net and working the puck out of the corners. His play has stood out even as a straight-line kind of guy on a team full of dipsy-doodle passers.

When that happens, there's a tendency to look for the one thing that has put a player over the top. But sometimes, it's several.

"I've pretty much done the same things I always do," he said. "In the summer, I worked out with my trainer Dave Moore again. I was on the ice with guys like Rob Schremp and Corey Perry. That helps."

His entire career, Salters has dealt with diabetes. Nothing has changed on that front.

"It's a battle every day, but you just try to eat the right diet, monitor it," the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder said, "and it's never bothered me and I haven't done anything differently."

His confidence level, however, has clearly surged.

"Getting invited to a camp (by St. Louis) this year, it raises your level and you bring that back with you (to London)," he said. "You want to play pro so you hope you can do enough to get invited back."

Linemates?

In a never-ending search for more scoring, head coach Dale Hunter shuffles his lines like a Vegas casino trying to snuff out a hot gambler. But he's often left the Wrecking Crew -- Salters, Dom DeSando and Zac Rinaldo -- intact.

No one works harder than DeSando.

Rinaldo, now at centre, has turned himself into a legitimate contender for a spot on the Canadian world junior roster.

Salters has thrived with those guys.

"I've never shied away from dropping the gloves," he said with a grin, "but it's nice to get a chance to play and put up some numbers. On the power play, I just try to get in front of the net and make things happen down low."

A year older and wiser?

"When you're 20, it's a bit of a personal farewell tour," Salters said. "We went to Mississauga earlier and when you only play in the East rinks once a year, I thought about how this was my final game (at the Hershey Centre).

"It's your last go-round. Make the most of it."

When you're one of three overagers on a club, the end is always near.

Mark Hunter may need to acquire a 20-year-old defenceman this season. Then, someone has to leave. If it's not Salters, it'll have to be captain Justin Taylor or blue-liner Steve Tarasuk, who is a combined plus-75 in his OHL career.

The Knights are clearly still trying to figure things out.

Del Zotto, the defenceman who might have returned, was just named NHL rookie of the month with four goals and 12 points in 14 Big Apple games.

The team's signature special team -- power play -- is 18th in the OHL and dead last on the road with just three goals in 39 chances.

In their first shootout Sunday in Guelph, the Knights went 1-for-9 and lost.

Salters was the ninth shooter.

He couldn't extend the game.

But if he keeps playing the way he has, he'll continue to extend his OHL career.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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