The NHL Entry Draft will occur on June 28 & 29 in Nashville. If it seems like we’ve been looking towards this date since CHGO Blackhawks launched in March of 2022, it’s because we have! The Chicago Blackhawks won the right to draft future superstar Connor Bedard with the first overall pick. However, they currently own 10 picks in one of the deepest drafts in recent years, including six in the first two rounds. With that in mind, the CHGO Blackhawks crew will dive into some of the prospects the team is potentially targeting for some of those picks after changing the course of the franchise with the number one pick.
Our next profile is on forward Andrew Cristall of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.
Andrew Cristall Measurables
“As creative as any player in the draft, Cristall simply knows how to score. His ability to anticipate and read the defense to find the right spot to put himself is next level. The legitimate concern beyond his below-average size is that he is also a below-average skater. Despite thinking the game at a high level, he can sometimes be behind the play and may not have the pace to be a driver. Still, the rare commodity of high-end to elite offensive sense gives me some belief he can overcome some limitations. There is a real boom-bust potential with drafting a player like Cristall this high, but the hockey sense wins the day here for me.” – Chris Peters, FloHockey
“He is an absolute magician with the puck, with a seemingly bottomless bag full of tricks and surprises. However, as entertaining as it is to watch Cristall pull off Harlem Globetrotters-like shenanigans in the WHL, there are reasonable concerns about how much of this kind of stuff will work in the NHL, as well as what else he can offer with his game. For a guy of his small stature, he isn’t a high-end skater, which is a one-two punch that keeps many big-time point producers at the junior level out of the NHL altogether. There are barely any players in the NHL like Cristall stylistically, but there is one big name, who faced many of the same criticisms coming up the ranks: Kirill Kaprizov. That’s a lofty comparison, but it’s not an impossible one. How comfortable will teams be with making that kind of gamble?” – Derek Neumeier, McKeen’s Hockey
“Cristall paced to 119 points in 68 games in his draft year. Certainly the skating, as it stands right now, is an issue. He knows that. His camp knows that. But I know he’s committed to working on it with Barb Aidelbaum all summer, there’s belief that his physical maturity is a step behind and will come, and I won’t be the least bit surprised if he leads the WHL in scoring next year and gets an NHL contract in short order.” – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
‘‘He’s probably the smartest hockey player I’ve gotten to play with and watch this year. The things he’s able to do out there with the puck and how well he creates offense is some of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s a special player, and he’s going to make a team really happy.’’ – Connor Bedard
Why Andrew Cristall Fits with the Blackhawks
Simply labeling Cristall “Connor Bedard’s best-friend” is unfair to him. If that were his only asset, he’d be a late-round nod to the future Blackhawks star. Instead, it would be an added bonus.
Cristall’s numbers last season with Kelowna were astronomical. The forward picked up 95 points (39 goals, 56 assists) in 54 games. He can stickhandle. He can pass and shoot. He can pile up stats. His hockey sense is also off the charts. Some players know where to find the soft areas of the ice (like Alex Ovechkin and Alex Debrincat) to put themselves in the best position to score. Cristall is one of those players, and every NHL team has a pick for a player who has lit things up like Cristall has.
Is that enough to make up for his lack of skating? Director of Scouting Mike Doneghey has said that if you can’t skate, you can’t be a Blackhawk. As tempting as Cristall’s counting stats might be, are they enough to overcome the team’s emphasis on skating?