If you’re looking for consistency, it’s hard to improve upon Hershey Bears right wing Jon DiSalvatore. Now in the midst of his 10th season in the AHL, the 31-year-old DiSalvatore has scored at least 20 goals in each of his first nine seasons in the circuit. He has scored between 20 and 28 goals in each of those nine seasons. He has totaled between 45 and 67 points in each of those campaigns. Despite all that consistency, the Bangor, Maine native has played in just six NHL games over those nine seasons. Originally drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fourth round (104th overall) in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, DiSalvatore played just one season in the Sharks’ organization after completing a successful collegiate career at Providence College, not far from his boyhood home in Connecticut. In his first season as a pro, DiSalvatore totaled 22 goals and 46 points for the AHL Cleveland Barons in 2003-04.
“I never actually ended up attending any of [the Sharks’] development camps,” says DiSalvatore, “but I went to rookie camp. We had a good relationship, but I was able to become a free agent after playing with Cleveland my rookie season. But I’ve got to thank Cleveland and San Jose for allowing me to play and to be seen and get my feet wet my rookie season. They’re really good and they have a strong reputation for developing their guys and bringing them up through the ranks. There are a lot of guys I played with my rookie season there who ended up going on to have nice NHL careers to this day.” DiSalvatore signed as a free agent with St. Louis, and spent the lockout season of 2004-05 with the Blues’ AHL team in Worcester. The AHL was of a much higher caliber that season, but DiSalvatore still managed to virtually replicate his rookie campaign, putting up 23 goals and 45 points. “We ended up signing with St. Louis,” DiSalvatore recalls. “I got a chance to play close to home in Worcester, and my family was becoming a big part of it. When I moved out to Peoria and I got the call, it kind of brought my family back into the mix when I came back east and play in my first [NHL] game, it’s a pretty special feeling.” By the middle of his third pro season, DiSalvatore got the call to St. Louis to make his NHL debut against the Caps at Verizon Center in a 5-4 Washington shootout win. “Even if you only play a handful of games,” he says, “to get there is something you dream about your entire life. To start the game and have the anthem going, [I had] chills. I’m sure every guy says the same thing. I had all the same feelings. It was really satisfying and I was very appreciative of everyone who was part of it and helped to get me there, and I was really happy that my family was able to be a part of it as well.” DiSalvatore still remembers vividly the events before that Jan. 19, 2006 NHL baptism in D.C. “I remember sitting next to Dougie Weight,” relates DiSalvatore, “which was a pretty special feeling. What an amazing guy he is. Dougie Weight was one of those guys that when we walked into [training] camp, he knew everybody’s names. I don’t know if he took the media guide home and tried to memorize it, but it was pretty special to make someone so small feel so welcome and at home. That sticks out the absolute most. “There were some other guys who were up there at the same time. Eric Boguniecki was another local guy that I knew from before. He was trying to help make me as comfortable as I could get playing my first NHL game. But I’ll always remember and appreciate and have a tremendous amount of respect as a player for Dougie Weight. For him to come and talk to me as a friend and a teammate was pretty awesome.” DiSalvatore got into five games with the Blues before being returned to Worcester. He went on to toil in the Phoenix, New Jersey and – most recently – Minnesota organizations. DiSalvatore spent the last three seasons skating for the Wild’s Houston AHL affiliate. He wore the captain’s “C” for the Aeros, and helped the team to the Calder Cup final in 2011. Last season, DiSalvatore got called up to the Wild for one game, his first taste of NHL action in more than five years. In each of his last two seasons, DiSalvatore has totaled 28 goals – his career high – and 61 points. Does he ever get frustrated that his consistency hasn’t led to more of a look in the NHL? “There were times probably halfway through my career I would get frustrated,” he admits. “Even parts of the last three seasons, every once in a while I thought, ‘What’s it going to take for me to maybe get a chance?’ My coach [Mike Yeo] after going to the Calder Cup final becomes the head coach of Minnesota with a record number of call-ups. Could it be that the stars are finally lining up? I thought maybe once or twice that that would be the case. “But at the end of the day, I don’t get to make that decision. And that’s the biggest thing I would tell the young guys around here. Those are things that are completely out of my control. I know that if I come to the locker room and I mope around and I show frustration with it, that’s not going to help me one bit. Dwelling on it does me no good. I try to be a good influence and a consistent leader down at this level. Maybe someday somebody will fall in love with you and give you that shot. I don’t know. I play every day for that opportunity, to catch a new set of eyes. That’s what’s fun about coming to a new organization, there’s a new set of eyes on you and maybe it happens. But if not, I make sure that I’m bringing everything they wanted me to bring to the organization and then some. Ultimately, that’s it.” Plenty of pro hockey players who haven’t been able to crack the NHL on a full-time basis have gone overseas to play in European pro leagues. DiSalvatore has had such offers, but he’s happier at home. “It comes up more and more as I get older, that’s for sure,” says DiSalvatore. “There are certain things that keep me from going over there. It was floated around a little bit more this year than it was last year. Ultimately, I just love the North American style of play. I don’t feel like I’m a flashy player. Not that that is all of what Europe is, but I just like the grind of the North American style. I just feel like it suits me better. If they keep finding places for me to play here, then I’d enjoy staying on this side of the pond.” And how much longer does DiSalvatore plan on playing? “Probably until they stop the lie,” he laughs. “I don’t see why I’d want to stop playing if I could continue to play and somebody wants me.”