With North Dakota’s 4-1 loss to Yale on Saturday, the team has been eliminated from the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament, and their season is over. For Senior forward, and Hobey Baker Top 10 finalist, Danny Kristo, this marks the end of his NCAA career.
The 2008 second round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens has had a stellar career for the former Fighting Sioux, with 68 goals and 161 points in 157 games over four years. He was part of the North Dakota teams that won a school record, three straight WCHA titles from 2010 to 2012. This season was Kristo’s best with 26 goals and 52 points in 40 games. After such a marvelous season, Kristo could very well be named one of the final three for the Hobey Baker Trophy when the announcement is made later today.
Previous Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier attempted to sign Kristo to an entry level contract following the end of North Dakota’s season last year. However, Kristo opted to go back to school in order to chase his dream of winning a National Title at UND. Unfortunately for Kristo and North Dakota fans, the loss to Yale ensures that dream cannot become a reality.
Now it is up to new GM Marc Bergevin to get Kristo signed. Like Justin Schultz last year, it is possible for Kristo to become an unrestricted free agent if he does not sign with Montreal. The key date in this case is August 15th, which will be when he becomes a Free Agent if not signed. TSN’s Bob McKenzie seems to be optimistic about the signing reporting on twitter, “Now that UND’s season/Danny Kristo’s college career are over, MTL will work to get him signed. No one seems to anticipate any issues. MTL wants him, Kristo appears keen to sign. Kristo could go UFA by waiting til Aug but if that was his aim, could’ve done it last summer. Like J Schultz, Kristo could’ve quit school a yr ago, gone UFA. Not to say he’ll be in Hab lineup any day now but both sides goal is to sign.”
So the question becomes, what type of player do the Habs have in Kristo? How do I assess this player, and what are his chances for future success?
Kristo has shown tremendous versatility during his time with North Dakota. In his junior season, playing with sniper Brock Nelson, Kristo was the set up man for the Islanders prospect, using his vision and passing skills to make plays and put Nelson in a position where he was able to be UND’s best goal scorer. Last summer, Nelson signed his ELC with the Isles, and this season Kristo has worked with Corban Knight and become the go to goal scorer on UND’s top line, tallying 26 goals. He drives the net hard, and uses his great hands to finish plays in close. He also utilizes a deadly accurate wrist shot, and tremendous release to terrorize NCAA goalies and find the back of the net with regularity this season.
Kristo is an excellent skater. He has great top end speed, excellent acceleration, and great agility, allowing him to weave through opposing defenders and create plays off both the cycle and the rush. He has great puck protection skills, and effectively uses his edges, and low centre of gravity, to be strong on the puck, difficult to knock off a play, and able win battles on the boards. He plays a gritty two-way game, willing to get involved along the boards in both the offensive and defensive zones.
It is Kristo’s advanced defensive game that gives many hope that he can be a potential injury fill-in for the Habs this season, and a full-timer as early as next year. Kristo has excelled in all situations throughout his college career, been matched up against opposing team’s top lines, and tasked with killing penalties for UND. His on ice awareness has grown through his experience, and this will help him to be an effective pro.
It hasn’t all been good news for Kristo though, as there are some questions about his maturity. Kristo, an alternate captain for North Dakota, was suspended early this year for organizing a team party (with the other captains) and serving alcohol to underage members of the club. For Kristo, who had been disciplined for his own underage drinking as a freshman and lost games that year as a result, many stated that he should have known better. There was also a strange frostbite incident in Kristo’s sophomore season that cost him games, and what exactly happened that night has never been fully explained. It is these off-ice questions of maturity, that seem to be the biggest question marks surrounding Kristo at this point in time.
In terms of upside, I see Kristo’s ceiling as being a 2nd line winger in the NHL. However his defence is at such a level that even if he doesn’t reach that potential, he can be an effective third liner. Bergevin will have plenty on his plate in the coming days, as even with the trade deadline looming, getting one of the team’s top prospects inked to a contract will be important for Montreal.
I’ll leave you with two videos here today, the first is one put out by the UND Athletics in support of Kristo’s Hobey Baker candidacy and is highlights from this season.
The second is Kristo’s highlights from his first three years of college hockey put together by Corungee, we thank him for his work.
Thanks for reading, as always you can leave your comments below.
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