They were both drafted in the 2013 NHL Draft by the host team, the New Jersey Devils. Santini was a skilled defenseman taken in the second round on his way to a prestigious college hockey program. Meanwhile, Wood was a relatively unknown forward selected in the fourth round who was still playing in prep school.
In the two years since the draft, they have grown together through development camps, competed in the same geographical area and have represented USA Hockey.
Starting this fall, they will share the same path to the NHL as they will play together under the Boston College colors. Santini has served as an older brother figure for Wood and has supported him since that fateful night in Newark.
“Steve’s been my right hand guy throughout this whole thing,” said Wood. “We were drafted together to New Jersey back in 2013. The first year here he kind of took me along with him. He’s been through it all.”
Before playing a game together at Conte Forum, Santini and Wood took part in the Devils’ Rookie Camp this week at the AmeriHealth Pavilion right next to the Prudential Center. With the Devils organization in transition, this year’s camp has a different vibe. General Manager Ray Shero and Head Coach John Hynes are not looking for the prospects to make the team during the seven day camp, but to instead focus on developing their skills and chemistry together. Santini sees this as a progressive step that will help both the players and the franchise.
“I think everyone likes it,” said Santini. “There’s not much downtime. We are busy throughout most of the day. We as players would rather develop and work on stuff throughout the course of the camp.”
“Change is good sometimes and in this case it’s very good for the organization.”
Hynes has only been with the organization for two months but has been impressed from what he has seen this week from the 20-year-old defenseman.
“On the ice, you can see he’s a very good skater, he moves the puck well. He’s got good size. He has some pretty good skills. What we’ve done this week so far, those elements you can see in the players,” said Hynes. “Then, off the ice, he’s a real quality kid. He’s respectful. He pays attention. He’s in great shape. That’s the other thing we try to do is get some feedback from our trainers and equipment managers and all the people around the players; they all (provide) feedback and information, so, for Steve, he’s done a nice job both ways and we knew that coming in and he’s certainly been that way this week.”
Santini is coming off a tough sophomore season that saw him only dress in 22 games, adding a goal, four assists and 20 penalty minutes. A wrist injury in the preseason forced him to miss the first half of the season, including the World Junior Championship. He never seemed to find his game in the second half but he is 100% healthy and looking to bounce back as a junior.
“It was a pretty bad injury. I just never found my groove,” said the Bronxville, New York native. “As soon as I got healthy, I was rehabbing in-season. It’s nice now to have a full off-season to re-strengthen and refocus for the new year.”
In the past two years, notable college prospects such as Kevin Hayes and Mike Reilly have chosen to go to free agency rather than stay with the organization that drafted them. Competition for jobs was a factor in both of their decisions. New Jersey’s blue line will be similary competitive for years to come with a deep pool of skilled, young defensemen, but Santini affirmed he does not share those frustrations nor is he plotting to depart New Jersey.
“I am happy to be with the Devils. I am not trying to do what they did. If I did do that, it’s not a planned thing but at the same time I am very happy with my situation here.”
While Santini is a year or two away from jumping to the pros, Wood is preparing for the next level of his career. Since he was drafted, the forward has gone from being a mysterious prospect to a budding power-forward. In his last two years at Nobles and Greenough, Wood dominated the New England Prep School league, posting 46 goals, 42 assists and 88 points in 44 games.
Wood compares his game to that of Boston College alum Chris Kreider. He has the skill to potentially play in a top-six role, but he does not mind getting more physical and playing a supporting role.
“I’m a guy they can rely on in all three zones,” he said. “I will be quick on the forecheck. I will be the first guy in the corners. If I play with a playmaker-type guy, I will stick up for him, head into the corners, get the puck for him so he can shoot it.”
Last season was a special year for Wood as he represented Team USA at the 2015 World Junior Championship. He was not asked to provide his scoring touch, but to compete as a bottom-six forward. He gladly accepted the challenge.
“My role up there was to be a guy who would compete hard,” said Wood. “A guy they can rely on in the [defensive] zone, be fast in the forecheck, support guys and attack the net.”
Despite not making the team due to his injury, Santini encouraged Wood throughout the tournament.
“He was on the World Juniors team but he did not make it due to his wrist [injury],” Wood said. “He supported me throughout that whole thing. He was like ‘Come on! Come on! Compete! Compete!’”
Wood is anxious to begin his NCAA career at Boston College, a team he has dreamed of playing for while growing up in New England. He is a fan of Jerry York’s approach to the game, which focuses on an up-tempo system, similar to what the Devils are trying to establish with their new identity.
“Boston College plays with a high pace, the same thing here [with the Devils]: fast, attacking, supportive,” said Wood. “Jerry York and Greg Brown harp on fast play and quick transition. I can’t wait to play in that system. It relates perfectly to how New Jersey plays. Hopefully someday I can transition easily into that.”
The Devils have a history of acquiring current and former Boston College players. This week at the Devils’ Rookie Camp, there are six current players attending: Santini, Wood, 2014 sixth round pick Joey Dudek, Matt Gaudreau, Casey Fitzgerald and Josh Couturier. This summer, multiple Boston College players are partaking in other NHL clubs’ development camps. In Santini’s words, “it shows what kind of program Coach York has built”
“With Coach York in charge, he’s done a good job and built a great program there. He and assistant coach Greg Brown have done a great job with player development,” he said.
Santini is looking forward to playing alongside his friend Wood and feels he will bring a strong presence up front for the Golden Eagles.
“He is already a big, strong kid, very mature, “said the defenseman. “He will come in and play right away. It will be good to have a good, strong power-forward like him in our lineup.”
For Wood, this is the next hurdle in his journey to the NHL, but now he will share this part of the road with a friend beside him.
“I have been very fortunate to know him for the past three years because he has helped me out with my career and I will be very fortunate to be playing with him next year,” said Wood.
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