With the 2023 NHL Draft coming up next month, we’re profiling some of the players that may be of interest to the Flames when they make their selection at 16th overall. In this edition, we take a closer look at forward Andrew Cristall of the Kelowna Rockets.
Height: 5’10” Weight: 167 lbs.
Position: Left Wing
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Final Ranking: 15th (North American Skaters)
This wasn’t a case of establishing blasé goals purely for the sake of it.
Not a pipedream.
But a promise.
A guttural, cold-blooded vow to take this level by storm.
“I wanted to be the best player on the ice every game,” Andrew Cristall said of his breakout season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. “Every shift I go out there, I wanted to make a difference. That was my expectation this year – to try and be dominant and be great every night.
“If I could do that and be consistent with it, those were my two goals for this year. That definitely helped keep me level-headed and focused, so that I always had something to be pushing towards.
“No matter how I played one game – no matter what I accomplished on the ice that night – there was always that ‘next’ game that I was pushing towards.
“I always wanted to be better.”
In the end, there was absolutely no measure by which Cristall didn’t deliver on that pledge. He finished with 39 goals and 95 points in only 54 regular-season twirls, clipping second-place Gabriel Szturc in the team scoring race by an unthinkable 16 points.
He was the straw that stirred the drink offensively for the Rockets, averaging more than four shots per game, and was held off the scoresheet only 10 times, all year.
The B.C. native had 28 multi-point efforts, including a pair of five-point outings and six others with four. While it wasn’t the season the Okanagan-based club was hoping for, Cristall’s heroics helped the Rockets eke into the playoffs as an eighth seed, before being ousted by the eventual league champion Seattle Thunderbirds in a four-game sweep.
But what a run it was for the No. 15-ranked North American skater.
“It was definitely a pretty hectic year,” he said. “It started pretty early with the Ivan Hlinka (Memorial) Tournament, which was great and obviously a really cool experience.
“As a kid growing up, I didn’t know if I’d ever get the chance to wear the maple leaf. So, for me to make that team was pretty special. The group we had was pretty elite and we went into that tournament feeling good about our chances, so the whole experience for me was pretty awesome. I’m still friends with all the guys from that team. Obviously, playing well helped me a little bit, but the experience to get that gold was pretty incredible.”
Best of all, it helped set the table for what was a memorable year ahead.
“I’ve got the medal hanging up in my room,” Cristall beamed. “I see it every morning when I wake up.
“That’s pretty good motivation to start your day.”
Cristall – ever the clairvoyant playmaker – tallied a goal and five helpers as part of Canada’s gold-medal pursuit.
And it was clear, from that point on, the game seemed to slow down for him.
The 5-foot-10, 167-lb. winger consistently showed why he’s one of the most gifted passers in the draft. His creativity is unmatched. His evasiveness opens up lanes and makes him difficult to contain. He’s exceptionally dangerous 1-on-1 and can easily fool defenders with a confident move to the slot, or by feathering pucks through traffic.
Both run at an elite level in Cristall’s cerebral offensive motor.
“Mitch Marner in Toronto is definitely a guy I like to watch and compare myself to,” Cristall said. “We both have some similar traits. And one of the things about him is that he’s always two steps ahead of the defenders. He makes his teammates better. He can find seams that most guys can’t. That’s something that I look at and try to emulate, for sure.”
While some may look at the size factor and assume he’s not built for the trenches – think again.
Cristall makes a living in the corners, winning battles and shielding the puck from his opponents before emerging to make a play.
In the corners and off the rush – where that raw skill and flashy puck-handling ability truly shines – there isn’t anything he can’t do with the game on his stick.
“I’m pretty confident on my edges and being a smaller player, I need to have good edges to keep me balanced and stable on the ice, but also to get escape from or push off bigger defenders,” he said. “To be able to make those quick tight turns to be able to create some space and is definitely crucial and it’s something I try and work on a lot.
“Going into the summer, it’s a goal of mine to get bigger, stronger, and to gain some weight. I’m going to be putting in a lot of time on my power skating to gain that extra step at the top end – that ‘getaway’ speed.
“You can never be satisfied.
“You always have to look at what you’ll need to succeed at the next level.”