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.