WHL Report: Andrew Cristall – The Undersized WHL Forward Passing Under the Radar

Sebastian High

2022-11-05

When discussing undersized WHL draft-eligible forwards with an abundance of skill, Connor Bedard is the first name to come to mind, and Zach Benson’s the second. Andrew Cristall, however, should be the third, and he is no slouch.

Cristall is a shade under 5’9.5” and weighs 167 lbs, but he plays a lot more like a 6’2” and 200 lbs player. He keeps a low center of gravity, is strong on the puck, is very tenacious, and has a nose for the crease, and he just loves to go to the dirty areas to create. Having those abilities and habits while also possessing high-end hockey sense and skill makes for a rare and special player. Cristall may have been rated a B-level prospect (second-round-calibre) by NHL Central Scouting, but that should change by season’s end, and if it doesn’t, Cristall might just be the next high-skill WHL forward to undeservedly fall to day 2 of the draft, following in Jagger Firkus’s footsteps.

His awareness and processing speed may be his two greatest strengths. Cristall is constantly scanning his surroundings (offensively) whether he has the puck or not, and when he sees an obstacle, he seems to immediately know the most efficient way to get by it. His skill isn’t down to improvisation. It’s calculated execution, which makes it far more impressive and projectable: he’s a borderline elite problem solver. The scanning also permits him to anticipate play very well in the offensive zone; he is consistently at the right place at the right time and finds soft ice with surprising ease for a 17-year-old in the WHL. He also changes the angle of attack constantly, making him unpredictable and very dangerous.

His skating is another clear strength. His edgework is terrific, and the overall fluidity he moves with is mesmerizing to watch and incredibly effective. His top speed is likely a weakness, but considering how strong his skating foundation is, it should just be a matter of stride mechanic refinement and adding some lower body muscle to turn it into a strength. His skating skill also enables him to make the most of his intelligence. He changes the pace of play incredibly quickly and has a very deceptive delay game, which would be more challenging to develop without his edgework and fluid strides.

Another key habit that makes him projectable to the pro level is his tendency to drive the middle lane and attack the slot. Many undersized skilled playmakers like him have failed to hit the NHL due to being perimeter players (which is why Jordan Dumais fell in 2022), but Cristall not only ventures into the slot, he wholeheartedly attacks it and the crease. He is quite reminiscent of Frank Nazar in this respect.

His defensive play isn’t quite as positive, however. The frequent scanning when his team has the puck seems to slow down significantly in his own zone. His inconsistent defensive scanning isn’t a big concern of mine, however, as he has the habit down pat offensively and just needs to apply it to defensive situations. More concerning is his passiveness in the defensive zone. He is tenacious when attacking the crease and forechecking but becomes static in his own end, again contradicting a habit that makes him so special.

As a whole, Cristall is a tremendously skilled winger with high-end hands, playmaking, tenacity, and hockey sense, whose style is halfway between Johnny Gaudreau and Viktor Arvidsson. While he may have defensive limitations, the ceiling is at a first-line level, and he should not be overlooked when conversing about the top draft-eligible prospects from the WHL.

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