The New Jersey Devils 2016-17 season is still in its infancy (Game #4 is tonight), but there’s already one thing bothering me; maybe it’s just me, but when you have a young player in your lineup, you want them to properly develop. In order for that to happen, the player needs to be seeing the ice, either in the minors, or in the NHL. For Steven Santini so far in 2016-17 that has not been the case.
Defense Through Three
A healthy scratch for the first trio of games, Santini is still waiting for his chance to crack New Jersey’s lineup, and at the way some of our defensemen have played (one in particular) I can’t really understand why that is. The forwards have not been treated the same way; Beau Bennett, Miles Wood, Blake Speers, Reid Boucher and even Jacob Josefson have all been scratched for a game. Some of those names are what we could call “younger guys,” but Jake has 240 NHL games to his name. If a guy with 240 games can be scratched for not playing up to par, why not someone with 337?
When speaking of 337 NHL games played so far in his career, I am referring to Ben Lovejoy, who throughout the season so far, can best be described as “not as advertised.” Despite either Steve Cangialosi or Ken Daneyko describing him as a “shot blocker” during last night’s game, the fact remains that the shots are still getting through when Lovejoy is on the ice. So far this season, Lovejoy has been on the ice for a staggering 44 shots attempts against; only Andy Greene (48) and Damon Severson (43) are over 40, though John Moore (38) is close.
The problem here may just be usage, but the other players mentioned above are at least helping to drive the play forward; in terms of shot differential, Severson is only a -2 (41 shot attempts for while he’s on the ice), Greene is a -10 and Moore is a -11. While none of those numbers are any good (maybe Sevs gets a pass for the -2), Lovejoy has been on the ice for a paltry 21 shot attempts for, meaning his differential is a -23, the lowest on New Jersey by 7 shots.
Time to Make an Impact
I know I haven’t really focused on Santini yet despite him being the subject of my article, but now is the time to shift towards Steve; what harm could possibly come from giving him a game instead of Lovejoy? With Kyle Quincey (team-leading +7) and Yohann Auvitu (+5) both posting positive shot differentials, why not bump Kyle up to play with Moore and play Santini alongside Auvitu? With how bad Lovejoy has been in shot differential and to the eye test, I feel fairly confident in saying that this would improve the team. Lovejoy feels like the only option to replace at this point, as no one else has been a train wreck like he has been.
If Santini isn’t going to get at least one game for Lovejoy, then it’s time to send him to Albany rather than having him serve as Ambassador to the Press Box. He is exempt from waivers at this point, so there would be no fear of losing him if we were to send him down. He’s a 21 year old in his first full pro season and he needs to be playing the game in order to develop properly; either here in New Jersey with Auvitu (who he looked very good with in the preseason) or on Albany’s top pairing.
The Devils need to make the best decision for Santini because in all honesty the team needs him to reach his full potential. The defense prospect pipeline isn’t as full as it used to be and prospects that have come through in the last couple of years (mainly Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill) have underachieved. The Devils have few promising youngsters left to fill gaps in the their lineup at this point; someone needs to step up and carve out a role for themselves on the New Jersey blue line. The problem again here is that Santini can’t be that “someone” unless he gets a chance to play.
I do want to address the fact that some readers may think I feel that Santini is entitled to some minutes; rest assured, I do understand that he is a rookie and needs to earn his ice time. Heck, he might even be just holding a roster spot until Merrill returns from injury (though I think that would be the wrong move) as he is the easiest player to send down to Albany. I just think with the Devils wanting to win games and with how bad Ben Lovejoy has been, that it couldn’t possibly hurt to at least try Santini out.
Now I’d like to hear from my fellow Devils fan on the Santini healthy scratch situation; do you think he deserves at least a one game look? Who do you think should sit for Santini if he enters the lineup? Are there any other defense pairing combinations that you think New Jersey could try that would work? Leave any and all thoughts below and as always thank you for reading!