Meet Steve Santini, one of the newest New Jersey Devils. Drafted 42nd overall (2nd round) at the 2013 NHL Draft (which was in New Jersey), Santini just turned 21-years old in March/6’2”/207 lbs. and just completed his junior season at Boston College; in 98 career games he registered 35 points (5g-30a). After he and his Eagles’ teammates were eliminated at the Frozen Four (Thursday), Santini signed his entry-level deal with the Devils (Friday) and joined the team in New Jersey for their regular season finale (Saturday).
Santini and his college teammate, Miles Wood, made the journey from Tampa Bay (where the Frozen Four was) back to Boston and then drove down to New Jersey to make their NHL debuts. It was quite the 48-hour excellent adventure. “I talked to Mr. Shero, he texted me after the game Thursday; just told me to enjoy the night with my family, which I did,” Santini told the media following his first morning skate as an NHLer. “We relaxed and we talked about the future yesterday (Friday) morning.” As a defenseman, Santini is just the kind of player that the Devils need on their blueline — a thumper, someone who will stand up to players trying to enter the zone or get near Cory Schneider’s crease.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 8, 2016
While Wood was outwardly excited to make his debut, Santini was cool, calm and collected through it all, while hiding his excitement. As captain of the team, and a fellow defender, Andy Greene said he had a simple message for the New Jersey newbies. “I just tell them have fun and enjoy it; go out and play your game and have fun,” the Devils’ captain told The Hockey Writers. “The good thing for them is they can just play their game, they don’t have to worry, it’s not a high pressure situation. They can just play their game.”
“It’s encouraging to see a couple of young guys step in right away,” Schneider added. “It’s one thing to do it in the last game of the year and hopefully they can have good summers and come back strong and ready to go in training camp. I think when you don’t make the playoffs, everyone’s job is assessed and reevaluated. I think there are positions to be had next year and if guys come in prepared and outplay other guys. It’s a good start for some of them to stay focused and really push for that job next year; I think these guys have the right mindset and they’re capable of it.”
His new coach seemed pretty encouraged, eager and excited about the skill set/dimension that Santini will be giving the Devils now that his college career is over. “With Santini, I think that’s the type of player that he’s going to be. He comes as advertised; as a big, strong, stay-at-home defenseman that plays a physical game with edge and I think you saw that tonight, early in the game,” coach John Hynes said after seeing him in an NHL game for the first time.
“Even as the game went on he was pretty solid, and he looked, physically, like he belonged in the league. That’s one of the nice things we wanted to see,” he went on to explain. “When kids come up and play in your lineup, the big thing is you want to see — you know they’re drafted for a reason and their expectations to be in the NHL — they have an element. And if they can bring those elements in the game, then they’ve made a good impression. We think that after you leave this game, we would all probably say you can see what the potential is in these kids down the road.”
THW spoke with Santini following his first morning skate and then later that night after the game had ended to get a gauge on his emotions, and just what those 48-hours were like on his crazy journey from college kid to professional hockey player in the NHL.
The Hockey Writers: Was this something that you were anticipating happening as your season wound down?
Steve Santini: No, I had my sights set on winning a National Championship with Boston College, unfortunately that didn’t happen; so me and my family made the decision to come here.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 9, 2016
THW: It must have been a whirlwind of events for you from the time that semi-final game ended until today’s morning skate, right?
SS: Yeah, the past 48 hours have been very chaotic, but I’m excited to be here. It’s a great opportunity and I’m very thankful the Devils let me do this.
THW: After tonight are you heading to Albany? Do you know what the plan is yet?
SS: I’m not sure, I honestly have no idea. I just got here 12 hours ago, so I’m still trying to figure everything out. I just want to play tonight; play my best and help the team win and enjoy it.
THW: Can you tell the fans what your season and whole experience at BC was like?
SS: It was great. I loved my three years there, it’s a very special place to me and always will be. I really enjoyed it. I felt that this was the best step for my hockey career (signing with New Jersey) and my coaches supported my decision. They were so great for my development, I have no regrets.
— theScore NHL (@theScoreNHL) April 9, 2016
THW: It has to be really nice to have a college teammate, Miles Wood, along with you to go through this experience together right?
SS: Yeah it’s interesting. We’re both kind of in the same situation, so it does help having someone who knows how you feel. We’re both the new guys, we came down together and we’re good friends. It’s cool we get to enjoy this moment together.
THW: Did the two of you talk about that any of this could be a possibility, be it this year or next, being teammates in the NHL with the Devils?
SS: To be honest with you, no. When we were at school we were fully committed to being members of that team and helping that team win. This is just a kind of thing where it’s the right time, right place when we lost to Quinnipiac. We were fully committed to that season and not looking past our next game.
Here’s our chat from the postgame. Santini played 19 shifts (14:35 of ice-time) paired with David Schlemko and registered one shot on goal, blocked two shots, was a plus-2 and had two penalty minutes during his debut.
THW: You took a penalty on your second shift, a little over excitement?
SS: I want to be physical, hard to play against, but I didn’t want to put the team down a man there; obviously my second shift, not how I envisioned it. But they were really supportive, they killed it off. They didn’t make me feel bad at all.
THW: You were drafted here almost four years ago, could this have gone any better?
SS: To be here, it’s almost like a storybook ending. Or beginning. Yeah. It’s been a kind of crazy 48 hours. Two days ago I was in a hotel in Tampa, lamenting a loss. To be here, see Patrik Elias and the standing ovations he got. For me Pavel (Zacha) and Miles to get the rookie treatment for warm ups, and all that stuff. It was a ton of fun, we enjoyed it so much. It’s such a blessing to be here and I look forward to being a part of this organization; I’m really happy I’m here.
THW: The win makes it that much more sweeter of a night right?
SS: Of course. Winning is what we are here to do. That’s the job. To get a big win like that is pretty cool and the guys were excited. A unique situation for me, but I enjoyed it a lot.
THW: You seem like a really even-keeled guy, were you nervous at all out there?
SS: Um, not really to be honest with you. Everything happened so fast the past two days I really haven’t had time to think about it to make me nervous. But I definitely enjoyed it, I had an adrenaline rush – especially the first couple of shifts – I wanted to get into the game. It was such a special day for me and my family. It was a blessing.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.