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Santini one year closer to joining Devils defense

by Kristen Nelson

NEWARK, N.J. -- Steve Santini is relatively comfortable sitting in the New Jersey Devils dressing room.

After the first day of Devils development camp Monday, the second-round pick (No. 42) of the 2013 NHL Draft and Boston College defenseman could look around at the hubbub on the bright red carpet, of course with the New Jersey logo carefully avoided by foot traffic, and see a scene similar to his first two camps.

Even with a new coach (John Hynes) to learn from and a new general manager (Ray Shero) to impress, Santini has emerged as a veteran of sorts for the young and eager players around him.

"It's a little different this year because of the new coaching staff, new management," Santini said, "but I definitely feel a lot more confident than my first two years, for sure."

Despite being as new to Hynes' coaching style as everyone else, the Bronxville, N.Y., native has been especially resourceful to his five Boston College teammates also invited to this month's camp.

Forward Matthew Gaudreau is one of the BC players picking at Santini's brain. Although Matthew has received advice from his brother and Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, he didn't hesitate to ask his teammate what to expect when arriving to Newark.

"I texted him like a month before and just kept texting him like, 'What do we need to do? What do I need to prepare?' [Santini] told me with the new GM and coach that he doesn't really know what to expect," Gaudreau said. "He just told me to get on the ice and do a lot of skating. 'Just be in shape and you should be fine.' He helped me along the way."

Santini, 20, smiled while sitting in his stall and reminiscing on his first camp. Turning to his left, he looked at defenseman Damon Severson and remembered when they met, in 2013.

Like Gaudreau, Santini was nervous as he walked into the Devils dressing room, and he didn't know anyone else who was practicing. Severson took notice of Santini, then a new draftee.

"I never really had someone come up to me, so it kind of stuck in my head. I figured he's a second-round pick, he's a defenseman, it's the same idea, so I just went up to him and introduced myself," Severson said. "I wished him luck at the camp. I had only been there for a year, so I just tried to help as much as possible. He and I hit it off a little bit and we've been good friends ever since."

Severson, 20, was selected by New Jersey in the second round of the 2012 draft and played in 51 games last season. He was asked to attend development camp to learn Hynes' system, which he said is more offensively oriented than former coach Peter DeBoer's.

More importantly, Severson is at camp to serve as a leader for the prospects and is rooming with the Devils' 2015 first-round pick, forward Pavel Zacha.

"I'm obviously not a seasoned veteran, I've only played one year in the NHL, but I've been around here," Severson said. "I've learned things over the past year and I've enjoyed my time here, so I'm just looking forward to this year coming up. Hopefully these younger guys that I'm here with are learning from me as well as much as I can teach them."

Unlike Severson, this development camp probably won't be Santini's last. After sustaining a right-wrist injury in a "freak accident" against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in late October, the defenseman missed 11 weeks recovering from surgery.

Santini said he felt comfortable when he returned to Boston College's lineup in January, but the shortened season made the rising junior decide to play Division 1 hockey for at least another season.

"Obviously, last year was kind of a disappointing season just in terms of my injury," Santini said. "I think it's good for me to work one more year towards my education. Another year of experience before I make the jump to pro hockey."

Remaining patient has not been an issue for Santini. He said the Devils have not pressured him to leave Boston College and he is satisfied with his current situation.

Regardless of how long it takes, Severson is confident he'll eventually see Santini defending the New Jersey net.

"He has more of a defensive style, he's more of a hard-hitting guy, good in corners, moves the puck well," Severson said. "I'm an offensive guy, but that could be a good thing, right? He's got his abilities, and I've got mine, so hopefully maybe down the road we could end up being defensive partners. We'll see, but we will be future teammates, for sure."

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