The preseason so far for the New Jersey Devils has had its fair share of frustrating play and lack of cohesion that you might expect for a team just getting its legs. However, when delving into games like this, looking for individuals who stand out and look to have progressed or those who could make a bigger impact is always important. For me, someone that has looked much improved over the first two preseason games has been Steven Santini.
Before discussing the potential significance of an improved Santini on the roster, first let’s look at some of his stats from the first two games he played. The really do indeed corroborate the eye test that he has played quite well so far. Info from Natural Stat Trick:
As you can see, at 5v5 play, he was frankly dominant in both games. His Corsi was well above 50% in both games, and his relative Corsi was especially awesome in both, hovering around +25% as compared to the team. In both games, his relative Corsi was good for 2nd on the team, which is a great sign.
Now, you can argue that the 7 Corsi attempts against in the first game was a little high for 11 minutes of ice time, but that came with a literal 0% offensive zone draw percentage. He was on the ice for 4 neutral zone faceoffs and 3 defensive zone draws, but 0 in the offensive zone. Those ice conditions will lead to more attempts against regardless, and still ending up with 13 attempts for is quite an achievement. He only allowed 3 attempts against in the 2nd game, but that game he was on the ice for 5 offensive zone faceoffs as opposed to only 2 neutral zone and 1 defensive zone draw.
Frankly, if he can produce numbers even only 75% as good for a good amount of games in the regular season, he will have significantly improved over last season and would certainly become a mainstay on the blue line. That would have very positive ramifications for the team’s defensive corps. As of now, your true fire top 4 defensemen are probably Damon Severson, Sami Vatanen, Will Butcher, and if you think he isn’t regressing too much, Andy Greene. If Ty Smith makes it, as CJ discussed the other day, he might only get 3rd pairing minutes and matchups as a rookie. However, if Santini becomes a 2nd pairing stalwart, that would give the defense much more depth than it looks to have currently. You then have a solid top 4 that does not even include Greene.
And to add to that good news, in the Islanders game, he played over 90% of his 5v5 ice time with Butcher, and they connected very well. If that can become a dominant pairing for this team, that would have major ramifications for this team for both the short and long term. You would have Butcher, the offensive force, backed up by the solid Santini. However, even if that did not become a thing, the first game he played most of his time with Greene, which to me is good news regardless. He played well with two different defenders with two very different play styles, strengths, and weaknesses. That bodes very well.
Of course, I could be over-hyping this. After all, it is only two preseason games, with lineups that are far from ready to go, and without top talent all around. The regular season can come around, and Santini can go back to being inconsistent and sometimes overmatched. However, I am obviously rooting for him to really pan out. There is lots of talent there, and defensemen do take longer to develop than forwards. At 23 years old, to say that this could be his breakout year, that is not farfetched. To have him hit on that talent, and the Devils to score on that 2nd round pick from 2013, that would be huge for this team both this year and down the line.
Here at AATJ, we only ranked him 8th in the Top 25 Under 25, and that was as good as it was thanks to my personal ranking of 5th offsetting Mike’s #14 ranking. For all of us fans, let’s hope that he is a strong riser on that chart heading into next season.