The Washington Capitals selected left-winger Andrew Cristall in the second round (40th pick overall) of the 2023 NHL Entry draft on Thursday. He is rated as a dynamic player who adds extra flash to every play. Evaluators say he is an inventive playmaker, who starts plays, builds them, and puts on the finishing touches. He beats defenders with dekes, head fakes, and other means of deception.
Cristall was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on February 4, 2005. He has a brother named Tyler, three years his senior, who played three years in the Junior A level British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and last season played with St. Lawrence University in the NCAA. Coincidentally, Andrew played on the same youth team as former Capitals’ defenseman Karl Alzner, the Burnaby Winter Club. Cristall played for four years at the St. Georges School, scoring 43 goals for them in 2019-20 before the pandemic paused hockey.
Cristall was a first-round pick in 2020 for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League (WHL). At 15, he had a unique opportunity to join that team for their shortened hub season of 2020-21. Under normal circumstances, 15-year-old prospects can appear in up to five games with their WHL team following their draft year. Once their Under 16 or Under 18 club’s season has come to an end, they can play more games.
However, most hockey programs were on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and as a result, the league made an exception for the 2020-21 season, allowing drafted prospects to join their WHL team for the whole season. That was true for Cristall who appeared in four games for St. Georges’ School’s Under 18 program before their season was paused. Christall reported that getting the call to play in Kelowna’s hub program was not something he expected. But he figured it would help him be prepared for his Age 16 season the following year.
Cristall recently spoke of his experience. “It was really exciting to be invited to join the team. I didn’t expect to get the chance to play with Kelowna this season with everything going on. Once I found out, I was looking forward to being able to experience a year in the WHL and learn what it was all about and be ready to go for my rookie year next year.”
Photo: Steve Dunsmoor/Kelowna Rockets
Cristall ultimately played in 14 games during the 16-game 2020-21 season and recorded five points. He was just one of nine skaters born in 2005 across the league to appear in at least ten games and record at least five points during the season.
In 2022-23, Cristall had a stellar year with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. He scored 39 goals and recorded 56 assists for 95 points in 54 games and ranked tied for sixth in WHL scoring. He ranked first in goals and points for Kelowna, despite missing 14 games due to injury.
Cristall is one of the closest friends of Connor Bedard, the player whom the Chicago Blackhawks drafted first overall in the 2023 draft. They have known each other since they were five years old. The two of them stayed fit this summer by playing on an inline hockey team with a friend, Kent Johnson, a rookie with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bedard and Cristall roomed together at the draft combine in Buffalo. They both played together in spring hockey with the Vancouver Vipers and were linemates.
Photo: Regan Bartel/Kelowna Rockets
Cristall reports that he’s learned a lot over the years by watching Bedard’s shot, ‘‘I try to get different release points and change the [shooting] angle a little bit. Being able to learn from Connor has helped my shot tremendously.’’
He also reports perfecting his shot by watching videos of Auston Matthews by using a larger stick than normal and learning to “manipulate” the stick of opposing defensemen.
Photo: Steve Dunsmore/Kelowna Rockets
While Cristall certainly has plenty of praise for Bedard’s game, Bedard has a high opinion of Cristall’s game which he expressed at the Draft Combine, ‘‘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.’’
Cristall’s disappointing performance in the WHL playoffs and in the under-18 world championships probably lowered his stock slightly. He was also unable to play in the 2023 Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game due to injury. Plus, his smallish size probably caused many teams to hesitate about picking him.
By Diane Doyle