Devils Hope BC Duo Can Be Dynamic

Help is on the way for the New Jersey Devils. In fact, help is already here wearing no. 44 (Miles Wood) and no. 34 (Steven Santini), albeit contributing at a minimal amount for the moment.

The pair of prospects both bolted from Boston College at the end of their college season in April and signed entry-level deals with the Devils, making their NHL debuts in New Jersey’s season finale. Goaltender Cory Schneider, also a BC alum, has often mentioned (at any given opportunity) that it’s ‘always nice to have a few Eagles in the New Jersey nest.’

Hard Pill to Swallow

At the start of this season, Wood made the opening night roster, or nest if you will, while Santini was sent to the AHL — where Wood would rejoin his former BC teammate after the first three games of the NHL season.

“I still have a lot to learn, and that’s the exciting part about it,” a smiling Wood told The Hockey Writers. A far cry from the confidence he boasted when we spoke with him in July at Development Camp: “My goal is to make this team, my goal is not to play in the minor leagues.”

But a few months wiser, the 21-year-old admitted that going to the minors was the best thing for him, and his development. “The game has slowed down a lot for me. I came from college (one season) and that’s a huge jump going from college to pros,” he said.

“Each game I play here I feel way more comfortable. For me as much as I didn’t want to go to the AHL, I had to. Being down there with Rich (Kowalsky), Sarge (Sergei Brylin) and the coaching staff — they were unbelievable. They helped me so much in trying to reach my goals: after games, after practices — do this, do that. As much as I didn’t want to go down there, I had to and I think it’s worked out.”

Speed Kills

Now in his second stint in New Jersey Wood is starting to impact games, and while he’s not getting on the scoresheet every night (4g-1a in 20 games), he is making a difference – especially with his speed. In the first game of 2017, his speed led to his first NHL assist as he set up Sergey Kalinin for a goal that put the Boston Bruins in a 2-0 hole.

“Woody creates something out of nothing there,” Schneider would say after the game. “Just a breakout and he beat his guy up the wall; off he goes. It’s a great asset, and I think he’s learning how to use it. You can’t just skate around a million miles an hour all the time; you have to, pick and choose your spots, figure out when’s the time to go. I think he’s starting to do that, which is great.”

“Each game I feel like I’m taking a step,” Wood said, “and I think that that’s the important thing in this game. I just have to keep on learning and improving each day. When I was up here at the start of the season I was going a hundred miles an hour, 24/7,” he added with a smile. “And I learned very quickly that’s not how you play this game. Being sent down, that was the main thing that the coaching staff, up here and down there, wanted me to do. Just slow my game down, calm, read off of the play and then use your speed to go from there.”

Serious Santini

While Wood is always smiling, Santini often has his game face on, even during postgame interviews — but he has smiled a few times (confirmed). Maybe it’s the army-like buzzcut haircut that makes him seem like he’s all business, or maybe that his style is that of a bruising defensive defenseman who grew up idolizing former Devil legends like Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko. Like Wood, he’s also 21-years-old and has a bright future with the franchise and he’s learned from his AHL experience this season before getting recalled after John Moore went on IR with a concussion.

In his first game in New Jersey this season he registered his first NHL point with an assist on PA Parenteau’s game-winning goal, and with a win the following night the Devils are now 3-0-0 in games Santini has played in the NHL.

“I tried to play within myself, which I think every young player needs to do,” he would say after the 3-0 shutout of the Bruins. “Everyone just made it easy for me, everyone else played well, our forwards were coming back, Schneids played great, out D-corps was solid all night…everyone played well and when that happens it’s easy for you to find your game or find your rhythm.”

Student of the Game

Santini appeared to have a roster spot locked up after a solid training camp in New Jersey, but they inked veteran Kyle Quincey to a one-year deal and instead the thumper started the season with the Albany Devils in the AHL.

“Being in Albany was a great experience for me, to get ice-time, play against professionals, guys with families, men,” he told THW. “A lot of guys in that league are either going to play in this league (the NHL) or have played in this league. Especially for a defenseman, just getting used to the pro game; my time down there was necessary and I think it helped me a lot.”

“It’s a tough league. Guys compete hard, guys want to make it up here and like I said (earlier) it was a great experience and that’s why most guys spend some time there at some point.” Like Wood, Santini is relying on veterans on the NHL Devils to help guide him along this path and he had nothing but high praise for Jon Merrill who was his d-partner in the Boston game.

“Johnny made it real easy for me tonight,” he said, “he supported the puck well. Any the of plays we were trying to run he would help me, give me a heads up beforehand. We talked before the game, a lot on the bench – I thanked him after the game, he really helped me a lot and made it easy on me.”

The Devils and their fans would love it if Santini and Wood help the team a lot more in the (near) future winning games, but patience is key – for everyone involved. They still are just 21-years-old, still in the infancy of their NHL careers, but the future seems bright for a possible dynamic duo of Eagles in the New Jersey nest.