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Does Steve Santini Make the Opening Night Roster?

In the final game of 2015-16, New Jersey Devils defenseman Steve Santini played in his debut NHL game and made a positive impression. Today I take a brief look at some aspects of his game and offer my prediction for where he starts the 2016-17 season.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New Jersey Devils Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Two years ago when I was a rookie writer on this site (my how time flies), I took some time during the New Jersey Devils preseason to question if Damon Severson would be on the Devils 2014-15 opening night roster. After looking over his stats and comparing him to the players that were more of a certainty to make the team, I came to the conclusion that he would be a boost to the team, but would more than likely start the season in Albany due to said players ahead of him. I was half right; he did belong, proved it in camp, and made the roster playing opposite Andy Greene instead of being one of the final cuts. Another of the Devils highly touted second round selections from a previous draft is pushing to make the roster this season, only this time it’s 2013 selection Steve Santini.

Career So Far

While he doesn’t appear to possess the offensive upside that Severson does, as his stats courtesy of Elite Prospects show, Santini is seen as someone who can make great contributions to the team as a defender. So if he doesn’t contribute on the score sheet, how does he make an impact you may ask? Just watch:

It may be from two years ago, but still that is some impact; we saw him do this to Andrew Campbell of the Toronto Maple Leafs in his NHL debut in the final game of 2015-16; it was called a roughing penalty (I disagreed with the call and still do) but showed, just as the above video does, how good Santini is at separating his opponent from the puck with his physicality. Smart physicality is something that the 2016-17 New Jersey Devils will need with the previous forms of physicality (Jordin Tootoo and Bobby Farnham) moving on to other teams.

Great Expectations

If Santini makes the team, I think it’s fair to say no one expects him to be the defender that fixes our lack of contributions from the back end. Santini is a defensive defenseman, and we should rely on him to shut down opposing players as well as to help push the puck up the ice. While he played his first NHL game against a Toronto team that absolutely looked like they were playing game 82 of a lost season, he still did not look out of place on the ice in that game.

I expect a few assists out of Steve; maybe a rogue goal or two here or there, but the major expectations I would have are for him to be delivering good, legal hits while pushing play away from Cory Schneider. If he’s able to do this, then he is performing exactly as he needs to; if not, then perhaps he goes down to Albany for a stint to hone his game.

My Verdict

Last time I made one of these predictions, as I mentioned in the beginning, I stated that the player (Severson) looked better in the preseason than many of the other defenders the Devils could choose from and deserved a roster spot but that it seemingly wasn’t available; the organization obviously thought otherwise about the availability. It’s a bit different this time due to the number of proven defenders (or lack thereof) that New Jersey has going into camp.

I’m going to make a not so bold prediction since it seems to be a popular opinion around here and say that Steve Santini is on New Jersey’s opening night roster for this coming season. I think he adds an element on the back at that the Devils need in his ability to take the body; his skating and passing skills are good enough to aid him at the NHL level, and should help to shift the team from defense to offense.

There will be other options in camp to fill the main roster such as Yohann Auvitu and Vojtech Mozik. I don’t truly see Auvitu as competition for Santini because they play on opposite sides of the ice; honestly, I think they could both make the opening night roster. If there’s one player Santini needs to outplay in the preseason, it’s Mozik; I think Santini makes it though solely based off of the fact that he brings some grit and snarl to the team that neither Mozik nor really anyone else on the roster (outside of maybe Devante Smith-Pelly) provides.

Where he plays is another story entirely; he could be used in a shut down role with Andy Greene much how Adam Larsson was, but that could be entirely too much pressure on the rookie. If he’s placed elsewhere, I think it’s sheltered third pair minutes alongside either Jon Merrill or Auvitu (hopefully the latter) with some penalty kill time sprinkled into his minutes.

Your Verdict

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on Steve Santini; were you impressed/unimpressed by him during the final game of 2015-16? Do you think that he makes the team out of camp or that he winds up in Albany? Do you think his game will translate well to the NHL level in the long run? Leave your thoughts below and thank you as always for reading!