All eyes on Rockets forward Andrew Cristall as he heads into 2023 NHL Draft
If you search the term ‘Andrew Cristall‘ on Twitter, it will pull up all of the chatter on the site regarding where scouting services, fans and media think the Kelowna Rockets winger should be drafted in the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft.
One phrase that continually comes up is ‘high risk, high reward‘. The Rockets organization is familiar with how high of a reward he can be, selected eighth overall in the 2020 WHL Prospects Draft, Cristall’s numbers have increased as he becomes more and more of an offensive threat.
During Connor Bedard’s media availability at the NHL Combine earlier this month, the expected number-one pick gave his childhood friend a glowing review.
‘‘He’s probably the smartest hockey player I’ve gotten to play with and watch this year,’’ Bedard said. ‘‘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.”
With all eyes on Cristall and his game, we asked him in an end-of-the-season interview with kelownarockets.com what it’s like to deal with the pressure of everyone critiquing his game as he heads into the NHL Draft.
“It’s fun, it’s a good spot to be,” said Cristall. “Since last year there’s been a lot of tournaments and our season, but I love playing hockey so I couldn’t ask for anything else than to be playing all the time.
“To have eyes on me and people watching every night, it’s a privilege that I don’t really take for granted. I’m just having fun playing hockey.”
In early January, Cristall didn’t have very much fun when he suffered a lower-body injury that would keep him out of the lineup for nearly six weeks. At the time, he was second in league scoring behind only Bedard. He would end up missing 14 games, including the CHL Top Prospects Game. The Burnaby, BC product admitted that he faced adversity while waiting for the injury to heal.
“It wasn’t great, I had never really been hurt before. That was probably the first time I had to sit out and watch, it was tough to be in the stands every night because obviously, I wanted to be out there helping the guys.”
In his return to the lineup on February 15th, after missing almost six weeks of action, Cristall recorded his first WHL career hat trick and added a fourth goal.
In the end, Cristall was limited to 54 regular season games, but still managed to finish sixth in WHL scoring with 95 points. He led the Rockets in a variety of offensive categories, including goals (39), assists (56), power play assists (24), plus/minus (+18) and game-winning goals (6).
The Rockets stumbled as injuries piled up in the New Year, finishing eighth in the Western Conference. They faced the Seattle Thunderbirds in the opening round of the WHL Playoffs, who were loaded with 10 NHL prospects. The eventual WHL champions eliminated Kelowna in four games in the opening round.
The 5’9″ and 175-pound winger worked his way up the draft boards throughout the season. Initially given a ‘B’ ranking on the NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch list released in late October, he was upgraded to an ‘A’ ranking a month later.
Players on the preliminary list with A ratings are considered potential first-round picks. Players with B ratings are considered possible second- or third-round choices,
“Andrew has been an offensive catalyst in Kelowna this year. He’s very gifted offensively, good on the power play, has great vision and knows how to score,” John Williams of NHL Central Scouting told NHL.com in their updated rankings news release.
In mid-January, NHL Central Scouting Bureau Cristall was ranked 16th among North American Skaters on their mid-term rankings. He then climbed one more spot to 15 on the final rankings released in April.
Reflecting on this past season, Cristall touched on his own play as well as the Rockets overall play.
“I think it was a pretty good year individually, as a team I thought we could’ve done a little bit better,” said Cristall. “We would’ve liked to have had some more wins and a longer playoff run, but overall I had a good time and can’t wait to get back next season.”
Now looking forward to the NHL Draft, the Rocket reigning MVP didn’t show his cards when we asked who he hoped to be picked by.
“I’ll be thrilled to be picked by anyone.”
The 2023 draft will be held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, with the first round on June 28th and Rounds 2-7 on June 29th.
TV details: Round 1, June 28 (7 p.m. E.T.; ESPN, SN, TVAS) | Rounds 2-7, June 29 (11 a.m. E.T.; NHLN, SN, TVAS)
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