When the Rangers acquired Danny Kristo in exchange for Christian Thomas this past summer in a rare prospect-for-prospect swap, consensus among prospect followers was that the Rangers got the better player in the deal despite the fact that Thomas was two years younger and already had a year of professional experience under his belt. Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus added, “On pure talent, Danny Kristo is a better prospect than Christian Thomas… Kristo is arguably a top 100 drafted prospect in hockey with significant upside even if he does carries more risk than Thomas. In a one for one deal, it’s hard to make a perfectly equal trade and one team usually comes out ahead. In my opinion it was the Rangers.” Pronman followed up on this assessment in September when he placed Kristo 54th on his top 100 prospect list.
The Canadiens were believed to have soured on Kristo given some off-ice issues and his decision to stay in college for all four years. After his junior season at North Dakota (19 G, 26 A, 42 GP), Kristo appeared to be ready for professional hockey, but instead decided to return for his senior season. At a level he was likely too good for, Kristo finished second in the nation in scoring (26 G, 26, A, 40 GP). The 2008 2nd-rounder got his feet wet at the AHL level at the end of last season, registering just three assists in nine games.
Kristo is just nine games into his first full professional season with the Hartford Wolfpack, but now that we have some data on Kristo as a professional hockey player, we can take a look at his start. On the surface, Kristo has been the top offensive weapon for Ken Gernander, as he has produced at a point-per-game pace thus far (6 G, 3 A). Here are all of his goals thus far (click on the images to animate):
Goal #1 (PP) : Kristo fires a wrister from the left faceoff dot into the top-right corner after receiving a cross-ice pass from Aaron Johnson.
Goal #2 (PP) : Kristo steps into his wrister, this time from the right faceoff dot and beats the goalie short side, it appears.
Goal #3 (EV) : Kristo, stationed in the middle of the slot, deflects Conor Allen’s wrister from the point.
Goal #4 (EV) : Kristo pounces on a loose puck during a goal-mouth scramble.
Goal #5 (PP) : Very similar to Goal #2. Although, this shot appears to go to the far-side of the net.
Goal #6 (PP) : Kristo shows a quick release after swooping in to pick up a rebound.
Notice a pattern? Four of Kristo’s six goals have come on the power play. This confirms Pronman’s scouting report that Kristo has the potential to be a power play weapon at the NHL level. Goals #1, #2, and #5 show how the man advantage gives Kristo the time and space to take advantage of his plus shot. Unsurprisingly, Kristo was dangerous on the power play in college, tallying 24 of his 68 goals with the man advantage.
While it’s great to see Kristo racking up the goals early on, nine games is still an incredibly small sample size. Weird things can happen in small samples, and that’s the case here as Kristo is benefitting from some shooting luck as six of his 21 shots have found the back of the net, good for an exorbitant shooting percentage of 29%. This is clearly unsustainable. Using data from the University of North Dakota athletics website, Kristo’s NCAA career shooting percentage was a tick over 11 percent. We should expect that number to go down as he moves into the professional ranks.
What I’ll be looking for when I watch the Wolfpack from here on out is how effective Kristo’s game is during 5-on-5 play. His development in this area will be the largest factor in determining Kristo’s future role in the NHL. At this point in time, his slight frame is a concern as far as projecting his effectiveness at even strength. At the least, his playmaking skills, shot, and right-handedness should make him someone the Rangers can count on him to bolster their powerplay.