The first thing one would notice about Cristall in this game was his poor defensive involvement. He was frequently drifting high in the defensive zone within ten feet of his own blueline just waiting for a breakout pass to come to him. Similarly, he often anticipated breakouts a bit prematurely, frequently getting caught streaking up the ice while the puck remained in his own zone. As a result of this and his general passive play on defense, his teammates were often effectively playing four against five in their own zone. When defending against the rush he was frequently the last player back in his own zone. This is the result of him lingering in the offensive zone for an extra couple of seconds or simply gliding through the neutral zone on the backcheck. His lack of effort getting back was especially apparent but he was often guilty of both habits on the same shift. Even as a winger, NHL head coaches are going to want Cristall to be more active on defense and there is certainly a bit of work to be done there. That being said, NHL GMs aren’t going to be interested in drafting Cristall for his defensive prowess, rather it is what he can do with the puck on his stick.
Over his last ten WHL appearances, Cristall has eight goals and seven assists, recording a point on 15 out of Kelowna’s 25 goals (60%) during that span. He also added 40 shots on goal. That being said he strikes me as more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He certainly takes his fair share of shots, and he will score his fair share of goals, but he didn’t showcase a real high end shot from him in this game. He did; however, show us some high end playmaking. Just take a look at this play.
This play also highlights another trend I noticed in this game. He seems to love to drive below the goal line to create offense from behind the net. In this case he elected to pass to the open man right in front of the net, but he also had a couple of opportunities where he tried to score himself from behind the net. On one of them, he succeeded, banking the puck off the goalie who over committed to the near side.
Overall, Cristall was heavily involved in Kelowna’s offense when he was on the ice. Not only did he record two goals, but he also had five of the team’s 16 shot attempts, including four of the team’s eight shot attempts from high or medium danger areas. He also recorded three shot assists, two of which were from high or medium danger areas. In total then he helped create half the team’s shot attempts and six of eight dangerous shot attempts at 5 on 5.
As far as transition goes, Cristall’s numbers in this game are impressive, but to be taken with a grain of salt. He was involved in half of Kelowna’s controlled offensive zone transition attempts completing two thirds of them. On defense he was involved in 43% of Kelowna’s controlled D-zone exits, completing 86% (6/7) of them. These numbers are very good but are inflated by his playstyle. He was often the target of breakout passes simply because he was hanging out around the blueline rather than playing defense. That increased involvement in transition comes at the cost of playing a complete game. Perhaps more importantly, he didn’t really show that he had the qualities that make a player good in transition. In other words, his transition involvement came as a result of him hanging around the bluelines rather than by using his speed, stickhandling, passing, or other skills to get through the neutral zone. As a result, projecting his effectiveness in transition to the NHL is quite difficult based on this game. (Although projecting anything based on a single viewing is a bit silly anyways)
One last thing to keep in mind is that Kelowna is a bad hockey team this year. It is easier for Cristall to have impressive games statistically speaking because their offense largely runs through him as the most skilled offensive player on the team. Would Cristall still be involved in half the team’s shot attempts at 5 on 5 if Kelowna had other skilled players, particularly shooters like Bradyen Yager on the team? It is tough to say.
Stay tuned for more updates on Cristall and many other 2023 draft eligibles. Next on the list is Will Smith.