Photo Credit: Steve Dunsmoor / Kelowna Rockets
Andrew Cristall is currently the seventh ranked player in our Preliminary rankings and is currently fifth in total points in the WHL and fourth in points per game.
This is Cristall’s second full season in the WHL. Last year he amassed 28 goals and 68 points in 61 games for the Kelowna Rockets. He was third on the team in points in 2021-22 behind NHL draftees Pavel Novak and Colton Dach.
The undersized winger continues to impress as the season has gone along in 2022-23. Unfortunately, a lower-body injury has sidelined Cristall recently and caused him to miss the CHL Top Prospects game. However, Cristall’s point production and high-end microstats continue to push him up in Smaht’s rankings.
D.O.B – February 4, 2005
Nationality – Canadian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Weight –167 lbs
Position – Left Wing
Handedness – Left
Cristall’s Style of Play
What makes Andrew Cristall such a dynamic offensive weapon and a top offensive prospect in this class are his elite traits: playmaking/puck skill, his vision, his ability to read plays two or three puck touches before they develop, and his ability to make high-end plays under pressure.
There are prospects that have a high-end ability to create and distribute the puck for dangerous scoring plays, then there is a gap, and then there is Andrew Cristall. Kelowna uses him specifically to transport the puck through the neutral zone where Cristall will move the puck from the wing to the center lane. Once there he then has an arsenal of tools that he utilizes to get the puck into the offensive zone and then work his way to the dangerous parts of the ice either himself or through a pass.
What separates Cristall from other players I’ve watched or tracked in North America is his unique ability to send players to space before a play ever develops. He’s consistently leading his forwards into areas of the ice that they may not have been going or putting pucks into open spaces that allow his other forwards to change their route and find themselves with the puck and space. While his linemates aren’t holding him back; they also aren’t top caliber prospects or high-end future draft picks. He continues to make everyone on the ice look better offensively and it’s a testament to his unselfishness and ability to spring open his teammates.
Cristall isn’t just a perimeter player. Using his puck skill he’s able to shift his weight on his edges and put pucks under and around players sticks. He is a constant highlight reel waiting to happen and if he gets you off balanced he’s going to get by you with ease.
Even when he doesn’t have a successful transition there’s still a moment of awe that happens that makes you respect the creativity and skill of Cristall. The clip below is a perfect example. Cristall freezes a player at the red line and opens up space for him to continue carrying the puck to the blue line. He then uses a deceptive fake to the backhand to throw the defender on their heels and then loses the puck trying to put the puck between the defender’s skates at the blue line
Should he have hit #14 on the blue line as a safer option? Perhaps. There’s a defender within a few feet of #14 and they have no momentum hitting the blue line so I’d surmise it becomes a chip-and-chase or dump-in situation. However, when he does get through it’s always ending up in plays like this:
The only player that is as puck dominant in the CHL right now comparted to Cristall is Connor Bedard, and honestly the work rates between the two are much closer than you’d think. Cristall is the only other CHL player with a 50% offensive zone involvement, and his involvement comes with one of the datasets best carry-in percentages into the offensive zone. This often results in Cristall facilitating play to the dangerous areas of the ice where he uses his patience to speed manipulation to open up different passing lanes to get secondary options.
There are a few concerns with projecting Cristall’s offensive game. The major concern is that he lacks separation speed and doesn’t pull away from defenders when he gets a step on them. In the WHL he’s mitigated this with absolutely jaw-dropping puck handling and adept start-and-stop maneuvers to create space. However, his inability to generate speed through crossovers and a lack of power in his thin framewhen skating in a straight line does cause slight pause given his size.
A secondary concern of mine is more in the minute details of Cristall’s game and does tie back to his skating to a degree. Cristall often will drift on rushes and find himself gliding to the corners of the ice if he can’t find a primary or secondary pass option on the rush. By failing to continue to move his feet he has cut off any sort of escapability he might have to curl back up the wall and maintain control of the puck. This has been noted more than a couple of times in my viewings and thus has made it into the report.
Cristall’s game is not predicated on defensive engagement. He is often off the screen on defensive rushes and the last man back on the forecheck, nor is he actively engaging deeper in the zone on the boards defensively to keep play on the outside as a winger. His play as a weak side defender has been the most interesting at even strength because you can see how smart he is reading plays and where the puck lanes are that opposing defenseman or forwards would try to thread a cross-ice pass. However, a typical sequence for Cristall in the defensive zone looks pretty similar to this:
However, I do see glimmers of defensive engagements and process thinking that make me believe that he won’t be a sieve in the defensive end as he develops. For one, I really liked his very abbreviated stint on the penalty kill. He showed an intensity on the boards and challenging shooters that I did not see at even strength through all my viewings. Couple this with his ability to continually pick off passes and I believe there’s more to the defensive game than what the tape says at five-on-five.
He can be a bit soft on the boards, but his ability to play the middle of the ice as an F3 forechecker is good so long as he gets his feet moving. If he’s unable to read the play or isn’t fully engaged on the puck it can lead to him over-reaching with his stick which has led to some bad penalties.
What the Data Says
This is where things get fun with Cristall. Cristall leads the entire data set in the number of:
- Dangerous pass attempts
- Dangerous pass attempts completed
- Total passes by a forward
- Total passes by a forward completed
He has completed more dangerous and total pass attempts than the next forward has attempted. To put this in perspective: Zach Benson has attempted 59 passes and Cristall has completed 62.
His shot attempt rate at 5-v-5 is below Bedard’s but above any other CHL player. He’s the only other player besides Bedard (who is at 60%!) in the CHL who is above a 50% (50.3%) offensive transition involvement rate.
What does this all mean? His point production isn’t a fluke. It’s the product of his high work rate and his ability to complete dangerous pass attempts and to get dangerous shot attempts off at even strength. Truthfully, had he not had a rough patch of puck luck, he could be 5-10 points higher than he currently is.
Bedard is the best offensive weapon in this draft.
Cristall is this draft’s premier playmaker.
The valuation of Cristall is going to be a polarizing one across the NHL draft industry. There is inevitably going to be a sector of the community that looks at his size, lack of elite speed, and lack of tape to suggest he can play further down the lineup and push him down the board as a first round pick.
I, however, land very bullish on Andrew Cristall. From the defensive blue line onward there isn’t a player I get more excited to see with the puck on their stick than Andrew Cristall. His ability to make his teammates better offensively combined with his ability to pull off very high end skill moves give me all the confidence that he’s a projectable offensive player in the NHL.
Cristall lands at #4 on my North American rankings list. I have debated Benson and Cristall most of the year and still lean on Benson’s 200 foot game over Cristall. However, if your team is in need of offensive firepower and an engine for play creation and a half-wall quarterback on the power play? Cristall is going to make teams look silly for passing on him in the top 10.
February 23, 2023
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Austin Garret. If you would like to follow Austin on Twitter, his handle is @BMaster716.
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