|Florida Panthers' Mike Santorelli (13) scores against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2011. (AP Photo) |
By Brian Compton - NHL.com Staff Writer
is enjoying the most relaxing summer he's had in years.
No longer will he be entering a training camp having to fight for a roster spot. No longer does he have to worry about those long bus rides in the American Hockey League.
Thanks to a breakout season in 2010-11, Santorelli -- who had spent the majority of the previous three campaigns in the AHL -- has found a home with the Florida Panthers.
Eleven months after being acquired from the Nashville Predators for just a fifth-round draft pick, Santorelli was signed to a two-year contract that reportedly will pay him $1.6 million annually. Not bad for a guy who had just 32 games of NHL experience before exploding onto the scene last season in Florida.
"It feels good," said Santorelli, who appeared in all 82 games for the Panthers last season and had 20 goals and 21 assists. "But at the same time, there's another level I want to take it to. I think that was the mindset going into the summer -- just to keep getting and better and keep improving and try to hit that next step in my career."
Nashville's sixth-round pick (No. 178) in the 2004 Entry Draft, Santorelli spent three years at Northern Michigan University before turning pro in 2007. In his first season in the AHL, he had 21 goals and 21 assists in 80 games with the Milwaukee Admirals. The following season, he went 27-43-70 in 70 contests. It was during that 2008-09 campaign when he fulfilled a lifelong dream, as he skated in seven games for the Predators.
But Santorelli spent the majority of the 2009-10 season back in the AHL, where he continued to dominate -- in 57 games with Milwaukee, he tallied 26 goals and 33 assists. However, he mustered only a pair of goals and an assist in 25 NHL games for Nashville.
Unsure of what the future held in store, Santorelli received a phone call on Aug. 5, 2010 -- a day that ultimately changed his life. He was told he had been traded to Florida in exchange for a conditional fifth-round draft pick.
"That was a pretty big day," Santorelli recalled. "I was really excited to be a part of the Panthers and to help them move forward."
Santorelli made the Panthers out of training camp and flourished in his first full NHL season. He appeared in all 82 games and finished second on the club with 41 points. Truth be told, Santorelli was simply one of those players who needed a legitimate opportunity to prove himself.
"I was so grateful for the opportunity the Florida staff gave me," Santorelli told NHL.com. "I think that was a big part of it. I was able to play with some really good players. At the same time, I just learned so much from everybody there -- not only the players, but the staff and management. It felt really good early."
Santorelli is eager to build off the success he achieved last season, and he'll have the opportunity to do so with plenty of fresh faces. Florida GM Dale Tallon went on a spending spree this summer, bringing in the likes of Brian Campbell
, Sean Bergenheim
, Matt Bradley
, Tomas Fleischmann
, Tomas Kopecky
, Scottie Upshall
, Kris Versteeg
and Ed Jovanovski
. The team also has a new coach, as Peter DeBoer was replaced by Kevin Dineen.
"It's very exciting," Santorelli said of the revamped roster and coached staff. "Just talking to a lot of the guys, everyone is so excited. The additions are such great players. I look forward to playing with them and being teammates with those guys. I think it's an exciting time for us as a team. I think the team's going to be a lot better this year. I'm just excited to get going now. I can't wait to get down there."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL