The Washington Capitals took a big swing with their second pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, grabbing Andrew Cristall from the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets 40th overall. The Caps had Cristall ranked in the top 32 of their draft board and many scouts labeled the selection as one of the steals of the early rounds.
“I thought he was going to go in the first round,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. “We had him in the first round. I think he was a target [for us] coming into the second day. We made a couple opportunities or at least tried to make a couple opportunities to jump up and pick him. Fortunately we got him with a regular pick.”
There’s good reason why. Cristall finished sixth overall in WHL scoring last season despite missing 14 games with a quad contusion. He tallied 95 points (39g, 56a) in just 54 games for the Rockets, an impressive 1.76 points per game which ranked second among all draft-eligible players behind only Connor Bedard (2.51).
“I’m a highly-skilled offensive player,” Cristall said when asked to describe himself. “I can produce at a high rate, I like to bring people out of their seats, and most importantly, win hockey games. That’s the kind of player I am.
“I’m always on the puck. I feel like when I’m at the top of my game I always have the puck on my stick and I’m making plays. I can find the right spots to either make a pass or take a shot and score.”
Cristall, a Burnaby, British Columbia native, has ties to another British Columbia-born Caps player: 2021 second-round draft pick Vincent Iorio. The two are long-time friends and Cristall says Iorio’s fast rise in the pro ranks is inspirational for his own journey. Tyler Cristall, Andrew’s older brother and current NCAA forward at St. Lawrence University, played with Iorio growing up in BC.
“I skate with Vinny in the summers and our families are a little bit intertwined in that way,” Cristall said. “It’s pretty cool to go to the same organization, to have a guy I know there to talk to. He’s done unbelievable things and obviously just won the Calder [Cup], so a pretty good start for him.
“It’s definitely cool to you know, maybe follow his steps,” he added. “To get to the NHL that quick would be nice. It doesn’t really matter what round you go on; it’s what you do after.”
When asked who in today’s NHL he models his game after, Cristall named three players, including one of his new teammates in Washington.
“[Nikita] Kucherov and Mitch Marner are two big guys I watch,” Cristall said. “They’re super super skilled. Growing up, Nick Backstrom, obviously a Capital, but seeing his playmaking ability is pretty unbelievable. I think those three guys are definitely a few that I watched growing up.”
Backstrom is an interesting comparable due to some of the criticism Cristall has received for his skating ability. Backstrom, since entering the NHL during the 2007-08 season, is behind only six players in terms of overall scoring. He has over 1,000 career points and a 100-point season, all while not exactly being the most fleet of foot.
Cristall is aware of that flaw and already trying to improve it. This past year, he has worked with skating coach Barb Aidelbaum, who has taught a slew of current NHL’ers like Sam Reinhart, Brenden Dillon, Alex Kerfoot, Tyson Jost, Michael Rasmussen, Shea Theodore, and Cristall’s good friend Kent Johnson. That work will continue this summer as getting faster is what Cristall deems his number one priority.
“I don’t really think I’ve hit my peak in my physical attributes,” Cristall said. “Still [got to] get my man legs, I guess you could say. Just keep working on my skating and getting that speed to push the pace at the next level.”
The talented forward, who plays roller hockey with Connor Bedard, has the hands and playmaking ability to be a star. It’s just up to him to round out the rest of his game.
“I’m ready to prove Washington right and make that jump,” Cristall said.
Screenshot via Capitals
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