Photo credit:Steve Dunsmoor/Kelowna Rockets
The Calgary Flames could take a swing at highly skilled forward Andrew Cristall at 16th overall
8 months ago
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The Western Hockey League has produced lots of players who will hear their names called in the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft. And although the likes of Connor Bedard will be out of the reach of the Calgary Flames, there’s another productive forward who has been pretty divisive around NHL circles that could be in the team’s sights.
Today, let’s talk about the highly productive Andrew Cristall.
The risk and reward for a prospect like Cristall is evident. There is no shortage of talent in his hands and his ability to read the ice for open space and get to that specific area using his edges. However, those abilities come in a package that requires some extra careful handling. There are some concerns from scouts with his frame at 5-foot-10 and only 165 pounds. Additionally, his ability to push play and his skating mechanics, in general, have put him lower in rankings than some might believe he should be. That’s not to say that he can’t increase his top speed, but for someone with his frame and his ability to create space for himself and his teammates with the puck, it’s not surprising that his speed and pace are underwhelming.
Peter Baracchini of The Hockey Writers had this to say on the creative forward:
“Cristall is one of the top playmakers in this class, as he’s very creative and evasive possessing high-end offensive IQ. He’s very deceptive and shifty with his movements as he maintains great control of the puck, handling it confidently in high traffic areas and even beating defenders one-on-one. Whether it’s feathering a puck through a defender’s stick or his feet, he’s always making slick plays and dekes. His soft hands allow him to make moves in tight on the net to fool goaltenders and leave them in the dust.Cristall is very smart at identifying and spotting the cross seams and passing lanes as he’s able to confidently execute a passing play to his teammates. He does a great job to lead the rush as he’s great drawing in opponents to open space up and connect with crisp passes or making a quick give-and-go. He’s always finding the open ice and when he does that’s when he goes into attack mode, letting his skill and creativity do the rest of the work.”
The EliteProspects 2023 Draft guide also touched on his playmaking ability with the puck, saying this:
“A dynamic player through and through, Cristall adds the extra flash to every play. He beats defenders with head fakes, handling skills, and slick edges before cutting inside or finding a teammate burst into the slot. He starts the plays, builds them, and then puts the finishing touches on them. He’s an inventive playmaker, capable of turning the mundane into the brilliant, breaking down opponents with feints and deception before sending perfectly weighted passes to his teammates to do the rest.”
It’s easy to rave about Cristall’s ability to move the puck because it’s evident that area of the game is where he separates himself. However, there are some concerns from scouts with his frame at 5-foot-10 and only 165 pounds and his ability to push play, and his skating mechanics in general that have put him lower in rankings than some might believe he should be.
Cristall has played for the Kelowna Rockets since the 2020-21 season, where he scored 5 points in 14 games. Since then, he’s been over a point per game, with 69 points in 61 games in 2021-22 and a huge jump to 95 points in 54 games this previous year. He also played and was the alternate captain for Team Canada’s U-18 World Junior team, which won the bronze medal. He finished tied for fourth in scoring on the team with six points in seven games and was over a point per game with Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with six points in five games.
Availability and fit
With the discrepancy on where scouts and other draft aficionados believe Cristall should go, there’s a high likelihood that the silky smooth playmaker is available for the Flames at 16th overall. There’s no such thing as too much skill, and Cristall’s ability to find open space using his edges and sneak the puck through small windows could develop into something truly special. However, it’s important that the strength and conditioning staffs in both the AHL and NHL know what they’re getting in the undersized forward and how to best optimize his frame.
No matter what, there’s no denying that a player like Cristall can be useful at the NHL level with his puck-moving alone. The Flames, at 16th overall, are in the perfect position to take a swing at a skilled player that needs refinement in certain areas.
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