ARLINGTON, VA – Andrew Cristall, the Capitals’ second round pick in the 2023 draft, has had quite the week. Selected 40th overall, Cristall left for Washington the following day to participate in the Capitals’ annual development camp, where he’s had the chance to learn alongside plenty of the team’s young prospects.
Though it’s been a milestone week for his career, the draft and development camp have put a hamper on Cristall’s usual summer plans: roller hockey.
He’s spent the last two summers playing for the Great Guys of the North Shore Inline Hockey League, but skipped a game to attend the draft and will miss another while in D.C.
Also on that team is first-overall sensation Connor Bedard.
“There’s a lot of great players on that team,” Cristall said Monday, adding, “It’s a really fun team to be a part of. We just go out there and have fun and kind of get creative out there. It’s really nice.”
Other high-profile players on the Great Guys include Columbus Blue Jackets players Kent Johnson and Jake Christensen, as well as Cristall’s brother Tyler. Johnson filmed a video wishing Bedard and Cristall good luck at the draft, but couldn’t resist ribbing the pair for missing a game.
“Don’t be surprised if your inline gear is out of your stall when you guys get back, because this is pretty selfish,” he joked.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 28, 2023
The team’s got plenty talent on the ice, but it’s a different story on the floor. The Great Guys sit second-last in the standings with a record of 3-5-0.
“We’re not really the biggest roller-hockey team,” Cristall admitted to TSN’s Mark Masters last month. “There’s a lot of guys that have systems. We might not be the most defensive team, we like to kind of go for some offense. That could hinder success a little bit.”
Cristall’s shown plenty of offensive flash despite his team’s losing record, putting up an eight-point night in his last game before the draft.
That offensive talent mirrors his on-ice play at the junior level. Cristall ranked sixth overall in WHL scoring last season and is known for his playmaking intelligence. He showed off some of his fancier moves in a video on Monday.
At development camp, Cristall told reporters that the low-stakes summer league has helped him improve his on-ice game.
“I think when you go out there on the inline rink, whether it’s on the ice or on the floor, you’re still playing hockey at the end of the day,” he explained. “So you’ve got to make reads that you might see in the game and pull off some new moves and be creative. So I’d have to think it helps me.”
Summer hockey also means a chance to spend time with Bedard, a close friend of Cristall’s. The pair have known each other since they were about six years old but played on WHL teams over 600 miles apart.
“We met up playing spring hockey for the Vancouver Vipers,” Cristall said. “The friendship kind of started from there and then we started playing each other in Bantam. We’re rivals and then teammates in the spring. So we’ve kind of just grown up together, throughout hockey, and now we’re with each other all the time in the summer, so it’s pretty nice.”
Bedard’s talent was immediately visible. “You see him when he’s eight and nine, shooting the puck top shelf and skating laps around everybody,” Cristall said. “So I think you can tell pretty early that he’d be special.”
Cristall explained how watching Bedard has helped him grow over the years.
“You can kind of compare yourself to him a little bit and see what you’re doing, see how close you are,” he said. “If you’re better than him at some sports, then you can get pretty confident because he’s the best in the world at lot of things. If you can be close to him, try to be as good as him, you’ll be pretty good as well. So it’s definitely something good to train with.”
From childhood to the #NHLDraft.
Connor Bedard and Andrew Cristall have been side-by-side since the start! ❤️
— NHL (@NHL) July 3, 2023
Now, their paths will diverge sharply: Bedard is all but guaranteed to make the Chicago Blackhawks’ roster, while Cristall will return to the Kelowna Rockets in the fall. His small size remains a concern, as does the quality of his skating. Cristall highlighted both as areas he plans to work on in training this summer.
“I don’t think I’ve fully matured yet, so I keep growing,” he said, “My strength in my lower body, I definitely got some more room to fill in and just keep working on my skating and my all-around game for sure. I think those are kind of the two main areas where if I can get those and make them my strengths then I’ll have a good path for sure.”
Listed at 5’9”, Cristall knows his size falls short of many in the NHL, but he’s prepared to prove that he belongs.
“I definitely got to go out there every day with a chip on my shoulder and prove myself right that I can be out there.”
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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