The Maven’s 3 Unsung Devils Heroes

Call them Foot Soldiers, call them Grunts or call them The Underrated.

Whatever you choose to call the likes of Steven Santini, Blake Coleman or Stefan Noesen, they respectively remain critical to the success of the New Jersey Devils.

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With the spotlight currently on Taylor Hall, Jesper Bratt and the club’s overtime heroics, little-heralded Stefan scored the cushion (third) goal in a 4-1 triumph over the Blue Jackets in Columbus. He also received an assist in his first career two-point game.

So ask any general and he’ll tell you that no army can win a war without its infantry and every bench boss will add that no club worth its weight in Zambonis can excel without The Underrated.

The following are The Maven‘s choices for the Devils unsung heroes. See if you agree; and if you don’t, then let me hear from you on your choices:

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

1. STEVEN SANTINI

Our local hero has bounced in and out of the Devils lineup like a tireless ping pong ball. One night, he’s out in favor of Damon Severson, and another he’s placed in Ben Lovejoy‘s slot. Because of this, his positive contributions often go unnoticed. Unquestionably, on any given night when Double S is playing, he could be the best of New Jersey’s backliners.

On most nights, he aligns with Captain Andy Greene and averages almost 20 minutes per game, which includes a fair amount of shorthanded time. The Devils P.K. — a cool eighth in the league at 82 percent — went 6-for-6 against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night while Santini saw a good chunk of his time come with his team down a man.

MSG Networks‘ Devils analyst Ken Daneyko describes Santini as “a beast” because Steve plays the body hard and makes smart decisions in the defensive zone. Granted, his puck control could use some tinkering but, then again, not every young defenseman becomes Drew Doughty overnight.

2. BLAKE COLEMAN

Coleman is perhaps better known for his curious habit of drinking pickle juice on the bench than for what he does on the ice. No doubt lesser-publicized is his knack for excelling in so many subtle aspects of the ice game. Exhibit ‘A’ would be the manner in which Blake helped defuse the Blue Jackets during the Devils 4-1 victory on Tuesday night. He simply went 9-for-12 on face-off wins, good for a 75 percent mark.

These tidbits are meaningful to his mates as another surprise warrior, Brian Gibbons, will attest. “The first thing I noticed when watching him play is he’s always working,” Gibbons revealed. “Blake is always outworking the guy across from him,”

A staple on the Devils' penalty kill, Blake Coleman has carved himself a niche on the team this season. The forward talked about his evolving role this season and his unique hydration method involving pickle juice.

Brian could have added that Coleman consistently wins battles along the boards, goes where other skaters fear to tread and is quick to come to the aid of his mates. Granted, that these are qualities boasted by your usual mucker. What sets Blake apart is not only his speed but his flashes of finesse.

On penalty-kills, he’s managed to produce a dozen shots; an asset that has made him a staple on John Hynes‘ penalty-kill. “I use my speed to get up the ice,” he suggested, “and force teams out of clean breakouts and I’m not afraid to attack.”

3. STEFAN NOESEN

There are some in the crowd of critics who may well wonder just why Noesen remains on the roster; apart from his physical play up front. It could be argued that he’s still on the very edge of the Devils roster.

Fair enough, but The Maven believes that Stefan should stay and I base that line of thinking on a very curious decision made by Hynes in Columbus. The Devils coach had the audacity — temerity, if you will — to place Noesen on the very first line alongside Travis Zajac and Marcus Johansson.

Fans could be excused for thinking that Hynes was straining strategic credulity with such an outlandish move. Devils season ticket-holder Emma Miller simply told me, “It was a head-scratching move — until the opening face-off.”

Noesen responded to the challenge by helping Zajac open the scoring at 4:24 of the first period for Travis’ first point of the season. Not coincidentally, Zajac had a season-high five shots on goal.

As an added fillip, Stefan notched the Devils third goal against Columbus with just 46 seconds left in the middle period. From that point on, New Jersey cruised to victory. And if you’re looking for a couple of capper stats, how about these.

  • New Jersey now is 12-0-1 when leading after two periods.
  • Since 2016-17 the Devs are 31-0-9 when leading after 40 minutes of play.

How about that for underrated stats!

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