So how good is Steven Santini?
Ask the coaches and officials from the international teams who saw the Mahopac native compete in the recently completed International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Men’s World Championship in Sochi, Russia. They got together and voted the former Kennedy Catholic star the best defenseman in the tournament.
Santini was spotlighted even though he did not register a single point for USA Hockey, which suffered a bitter 3-2 loss to Canada in the final.
“It’s obviously a great honor,” he said. “However, I didn’t train for two years to win that award. I trained two years to win that championship. So as much as I was happy to win the award, I would’ve traded it in for a gold medal.”
After spending the last two seasons in Michigan with the National Team Development Program, the next chapter is starting.
Santini has improved in all facets. He is a better skater. He is a physical presence at 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds. He is a stronger leader. Santini is leaving with all of the necessary tools he’ll need to impress at Boston College.
“Steven takes the initiative,” said NTDP U-18 coach Ron Granato. “He absorbs everything way beyond what the coaches impart. He absorbs information from teammates and opponents. He absorbs information from watching games on television. Steven does everything you try to teach kids to do from a coaching standpoint.”
The unrelenting quest for information extends well beyond the ice.
“It seems like just yesterday I was getting the invite to come out here,” Santini said. “It feels surreal, knowing that I’m leaving the program after two years and getting ready to go to college. I think I’ve worked really hard the last two years, and not just on the ice or in the weight room. I’ve been taking care of business off the ice, too, getting good grades, eating healthy, sleeping at night. All those little things add up. Over the course of two years, that’s what helps make a player better.”
The attention to detail is a trademark.
“I’ve not had a player with this kind of initiative in my 15 years of coaching and I’ve had a lot of NHL players in that bunch,” Granato said.
Teammates recognize Santini for his skill and preparedness. Joe Wegwerth, a former Brewster standout who played with the NTDP U-17 team this season, considers Santini a guardian angel.
On skates, of course.
“He is such a good player and this couldn’t happen to a better guy,” Wegwerth said. “He was such a big help last year before I came out to Ann Arbor. I would text him once a week with questions. And the first month here, Steven was a good shoulder to lean on. He would text me every day to make sure everything was OK, such a class act.”
Any team looking for a defenseman capable of shutting down one side of the ice will take a good look at Santini during the NHL combine May 27-June 1 in Toronto.
He managed just 15 assists in 66 games for USA Hockey this season against USHL, college and international opponents, but was plus-15. At the world championships, Santini was plus-8 and the primary reason why USA Hockey gave up a tournament-low 22.7 shots per game.
Santini was constantly matched up against the opposition’s top-scoring line, which makes the numbers even more impressive and prompted NHL Network analyst Craig Button to compare him to Dan Girardi of the Rangers.
“He discourages the other team,” Granato said. “Steven is really good at running opponents into bad ice, and it’s all very simple to him. He is not a flashy player.”
The draft will be held June 30 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and the prerequisite mock drafts have Santini going late in the first round or early in the second. Right now, the details are of little concern.
“I really don’t care where I get drafted, it’s just a number,” he said. “It’s not an indication of whether or not you’re going to make it to the NHL. It’s cool to go first round and go up on stage, but at the same time, a seventh-round pick has the same chance as a first-round pick to make it. It’s just a matter of working hard after the draft and not so much how much success you’ve had on the ice beforehand.”
No matter what team is holding Santini’s draft rights on July 1, he’s likely going to be packing for Boston College at the end of August. Only the rare few in each draft class go right to the NHL. He’s got a head start on a majority of freshman, having played so many games already against Division I competition.
“He’s a specimen, that’s not an issue,” Granato said. “He’ll gain quickness and speed with age. At what point can he play at the top level? I don’t know, but I think Steven could be thrown in early on without embarrassing himself or anyone else. He’ll compensate for any deficiency in his game. He’s a very intuitive guy and will figure things out quickly whether it’s at Boston College or a year or two down the road at the next level.”