Salinas Displays Impressive Raw Athleticism
Corpus Christi IceRays goaltender Jett Salinas was one of three prospects that really stood out to me during the 2012 NAHL Showcase, alongside Wichita Falls’ Evan Cowley and Amarillo’s Collin Delia.
Powered by raw athleticism, tremendous flexibility, and a competitive edge in the crease, Salinas went 2-1 with 83 saves on 92 shots in his first three NAHL games, good enough for a .903 save percentage. While not considered a “technically sound” goaltender by any means, it was his natural instincts and desire to stop the puck that landed him on my watch list.
You can teach a goalie technique, and you can refine excessive athleticism, but you can’t teach instincts or the all-important “compete” factor. Salinas displayed a high level of both, and in my book, that made him a prospect worth profiling.
Last season, Salinas was named the American West Hockey League (AWHL) Goaltender of the Year after posting a 1.63 goals-against average, a .936 SV%, and four shutouts in just 21 games for the Helena Bighorns. He then claimed the AWHL Championship after sweeping the Missoula Maulers in four games, posting a 1.95 GAA and .929 SV%.
To top things off, he also played 90 minutes in two games at the 2012 Junior Nationals, and only allowed one goal.
According to the Helena Bighorns website, Salinas, a native of Hollywood, CA, didn’t begin playing hockey until he was nine years old, further proof that he is as “raw-skilled” as they come in the NAHL.
Corpus Christi head coach Justin Quenneville reportedly has had his eye on Salinas for almost a year, asking Jett to join the team many times last season. That persistent pursuit continued on despite the fact starting goalie Anthony Stolarz was breaking out and gaining notoriety as a rising draft-eligible prospect.
Despite Quenneville’s pleas, Jett decided to stay with the Bighorns for the remainder of the season. This guaranteed him a starting role and plenty of action, and when his championship run ended with Helena, he agreed to join the IceRays.
Having to fill the void left by Stolarz won’t be easy as a rookie, but after a solid performance in his first three appearances, the flashy Cali kid established himself as an early “go-to guy” for Corpus Christi.
Traits that stuck out during my time evaluating Salinas were all centered around his high level of raw athleticism. He gets extremely low and wide when preparing to face a shot, and while he’s listed at 6-foot-0, he condenses his body into such a low crouch that he makes himself much smaller in net.
Salinas executes lateral slides with a lot of power, so maintaining control of those slides, or recovering precisely on angle was an issue throughout his first few games. He also exhibited a lot of excess upper body movement in the crease, bobbing and weaving his shoulders and arms in order to find pucks through traffic.
Because Jett plays with a balance point very close to the toes of his skates, he was able to pounce on a number of loose pucks. An active stick, active hands, and a highly aggressive mindset also allowed him to stop a number of pucks based solely on his raw athleticism.
He was even going out of his way to catch and hold shots heading way wide, or to brush away loose pucks that were more than a foot outside of the blue paint. But despite the excess movement, he was making the saves, and he was doing so in a competitive and confident manner.
In his NAHL debut, Jett’s egregious athleticism caused numerous problems with rebound control. But when called upon to make the timely save, he was there to bail out his teammates. He went on to stop 28 of 31 shots for the 4-3 overtime win against the Soo Greyhounds.
He backed up Dillon Kelley on Thursday, and then stopped 32 of 35 shots in a 4-1 loss to Jamestown on Friday. He was remarkable in the second period of that game, however, stopping all 16 shots he faced. But Jamestown scored two goals in the third period to extend their lead, and then added an empty-net goal with one second remaining.
On Saturday, his third game in four days, I was impressed with Jett’s’ durability. That type of workload is no easy task when transitioning from the AWHL to the NAHL (and riding the bus from South Texas), but he remained fairly aggressive, fierce, and most importantly, competitive and timely.
He did show signs of wearing down when he allowed two goals on 10 shots in the first period, but he stopped nine of 10 in the second period, giving up a last-minute goal on the power-play at 19:18. He stopped all six shots in the third period and finished with 23 saves on 26 shots in the 5-3 win over Johnstown.
So despite the fact Salinas was way too athletic and was caught unnecessarily lunging and diving after pucks in his first two games, I noticed that his final game was his best in terms of in-crease movements. His game visibly slowed down as a result of the energy drain, and due to the fact he was so aggressive back on Wednesday, he exhibited more control and finesse, and as a result, his pushes and recoveries were smoother and more efficient.
Overall, despite the fact Salinas will be tagged as a very “uncontrolled and acrobatic” goalie, his natural skills are pretty impressive for a 17-year-old goalie that didn’t start skating until he was nine. That flexibility and desire to stop the puck makes him like a piece of warm clay — he can easily be molded into a more consistent, controlled, relaxed, and refined goaltender.
I think if he were to work really hard with a quality goalie coach, Salinas could be quite effective at the next level in a year or two. His frame is decent at 6-foot-0 and 170 pounds, and if he bulks up and learns to play bigger, he’ll be that much more effective.
It’s just a matter of getting him the training he needs, and having him buy into a system where “less is more” is the focus.
With a more positionally sound approach, Salinas could really clean up a lot of the flaws in his game. His rebound control would improve, he would absorb more pucks, and he would make better decisions on when to challenge, and when to let pucks and plays come to him.
But it can be a delicate balance; you don’t want to completely remove his aggressive and intense nature, either.
Ultimately, I always look for goalies that have high levels of flexibility and athleticism at the root of their game. They move with more relaxed muscles and they don’t constrict their body when making saves, and at the end of the day, that is way more valuable than a goalie that lacks athleticism because they always try to be technically perfect in every situation.
Combine this with the fact that Salinas consistently battles to make second and third saves, I was not surprised to see his name as one of seven goalies included in the NHL Central Scouting guide for the NAHL Showcase.
Salinas may look like he’s playing in fast-forward out there, but I think that’s better than playing in slow motion. Over time, and with proper coaching, he could come to learn that slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.
If he gets that proper coaching this season, he might find himself getting more looks and phone calls from USHL, and possibly even NCAA scouts.