Every August, national teams hold evaluation camps as they look to piece together a roster for the IIHF World Junior Championship that is held in December. Teams use these camps to get an extended look at a wide range of players before having their respective training camps in December prior to the tournament. Last year the Devils had three players in August evaluation camps with Stefan Matteau and Steve Santini in Lake Placid, NY for the US and Damon Severson in Brossard, Quebec for Canada. Severson ended up being one of the final cuts for the Canadians in December while both Matteau and Santini represented the US during a disappointing 5th place finish. Matteau is no longer eligible due to age but Santini is looking to establish himself as one of the veterans of this 2015 team for the US. Let's take a look at the Devils 2013 2nd round pick's chances of making the final roster again.
The full invitee list for the evaluation camp can be found on the USA Hockey site. Santini was one of the fourteen defensemen invited to the camp. Of this group of players, all but two of them have been drafted into the NHL. Santini was one of three defensemen in camp that represented the US in last year's tournament. Team USA divided up into Blue and White teams before making cuts with Santini representing the blue team. His partner for the bulk of camp was Florida Panthers prospect Michael Downing. Adam Kimelman of NHL.com attended camp and noted this was by design as the US coaches were trying to find cohesiveness amongst their defense pairs early in camp, hoping that any chemistry can help the team in December.
After cuts were made, eight defensemen were left in camp (not counting Santini's Boston College and WJC teammate Ian McCoshen who left due to a minor injury). While this doesn't guarantee anything, it's nice to see that Santini did enough to keep earning minutes in camp and exhibition games. It would be a shock if Santini wasn't on the final roster given his experience with US hockey, not only from last year's WJC-U20 but also the WJC-U18 and WHC-U17 in recent years where he won silver medals in both competitions and was named the "Best Defenseman" at the U18's (some YouTube highlights here). He's a product of the US National Team Development Program which will also help his stock to make the final roster. From the outside, it looks like the US coaches are hoping to use the pair of Downing-Santini in a shutdown role to allow McCoshen and the other defensemen with similar skills to take on more offensive roles.
Further helping Santini's cause is that he is coming off a great freshman season for one of the best college hockey teams in the country, earning high praise from Boston College coach Jerry York.
In the final press conference of the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Jerry York described Santini and fellow freshman Ian McCoshen as "big, thick kids." He also said, "I think they’re going to grow into some really really good players."
"As the year’s gone on, they’re even better than I thought they were going to be at this point," York said at the same press conference.
Santini led the Eagles defensemen in plus/minus (+25) and blocked shots (68) which helped him get named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. His skill set as a shutdown, mobile defensemen based from his Future Consideration's page shows that he can be used in all situations.
Santini projects as the ideal shutdown defender due to his strong skating ability and physical edge. Has very good puck moving ability and has the ability to play on the power play as well.
Thankfully, the USA Hockey site has a stats page for each player at this year's camp, here is Santini's.
Santini appeared in three games for USA Blue starting off with an assist in a 5-2 win over USA White on 8/2. The next day he helped USA Blue to a 2-1 win over Finland by being part of a successful 3v5 penalty kill unit with Michael Downing and Tyler Motte. The following day USA Blue lost their final game to Sweden 6-2 but Santini did earn some praise on twitter from Corey Pronman.
After surviving the cuts, Santini played three games for the US starting with a 7-1 win over Sweden on 8/6 where he had 4 penalty minutes. The next day he was a part of the winning US side with a 9-1 win over Finland where he picked up another 2 penalty minutes, just like in his first game against them. Two days later camp concluded with a 3-0 US win over the Czech Republic. Being on the winning side of five out of six games is certainly encouraging and suggests that the coaches are probably content with his performance.
What are your thoughts on the US Evaluation Camp? Do you think Santini will make the team again? What role do you think he will have on this team if he makes it? How do you feel about him as a prospect in general? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading.