From the time Danny Kristo was a young boy, his hero was the now St. Louis Blues prospect, TJ Oshie. Both Oshie and Kristo played high school hockey in Minnesota, and Kristo plans to follow in Oshie’s footsteps by playing for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux starting in the fall of 2009. However, this week, Kristo’s mind is pre-occupied with events north of the border — the US NTDP winger will be listening for an NHL team to call his name in Ottawa at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Expected to be a second or third-round selection, the scouting report on Kristo is that he is a very speedy right-handed shot who has a very high hockey IQ, and an excellent work ethic. Although he needs to get stronger and develop more of a two-way game, Kristo is a hot prospect and likely to be the first US NTDP player drafted by an NHL team this year.
Kristo has for years stood out among his age group. The former Eden Prairie High School winger was a top scorer among Minnesota high school freshmen during the 2005-06 season (39 points in 27 games). Kristo first came to the attention of scouts at the 2006 Select 15s because of his skating and creativity with the puck. It was after that event that the young forward received an invitation to try out for the US NTDP.
Kristo made an immediate impact on the U17 NTDP team in the fall of 2006; the winger finished the 2006-07 season with 28 points in 59 games (tied for seventh overall in scoring on the team), and got his first real taste of international play. Kristo participated in three games at the Four Nations Tournament in February of 2007 (and recorded one assist), and returned to Europe this year to play in two international tournaments. The Minnesota winger scored the winning goal in OT in the United States’ first game of the U18 Five Nations Tournament this past February in Finland. He was also chosen to play with the US team at the U18 WJCs in Russia this past April, and finished with six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in seven games.
This past fall, Kristo was promoted to the U18 team, where he made a big contribution. Emerging as a go-to guy, he was fourth in total points on the team, with 21 goals and 17 assists. Expected to return to the NTDP for one more season, Kristo is looking forward to putting up big numbers during the 2008-09 campaign.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Kristo at the NHL Combine last month, where he experienced a whirlwind 48 hours — interviewing with 24 teams and performing the fitness tests — before flying home to Minnesota. Few of the 24 teams that interviewed him in Toronto last month had contacted Kristo previously, so this was his first exposure to the scouts and management. “The teams really varied in their level of interest in me, and often I could tell whether they were really interested by the amount of time they spent with me.”
Although he felt that he was really prepared for the interview portion of the Combine, Kristo was surprised on occasion. He mentioned that the “Los Angeles Kings had 12 people in the room and there I was in the chair between all their guys. Pretty intimidating. Most of the other teams had six to eight guys there, and only two or three talked during the interview.” Kristo said that no matter how much he had prepared ahead of time, “it was very different experiencing it, 20 interviews in one day was pretty overwhelming, but I enjoyed getting to talk to the teams and letting them get to know me.”
With the on-ice portion of his season over after his return from the U18 WJCs in Russia, Kristo had spent most of May preparing for the fitness portion of the Combine. “I knew that the fitness portion of the testing would be grueling and I have been training for the last month, trying to get ready — I have been practicing at the bench, push-ups, pull-ups, and on the bike.”
Kristo agreed with the scouts when asked about the strengths of his game, immediately answering that his skating was his biggest asset. He was far more forthcoming when asked about his weaknesses, which included trying to carry the whole load himself, and moving the puck a half second quicker. Basically, the winger is looking to simplify his game as he prepares to play for North Dakota in the fall of 2009.
When asked about committing to the Fighting Sioux, Kristo’s face lit up. “I am finishing up my junior year in high school, so I still have one more year. But I am definitely going to go there.” Kristo also considered staying in his home state and playing for the University of Minnesota, but after visiting both schools chose North Dakota. Although he seemed very sincere in being willing to give Minnesota a real look, Kristo did admit that “I just always wanted to play for the Fighting Sioux. My idol growing up played there and I always wanted to be like him.”
The fact that Oshie has now signed a professional contract and will not return to North Dakota did nothing to lessen Kristo’s resolve to attend North Dakota. When asked what did he want to work on prior to getting to college, the winger answered, “in the off-season, I am going to work in the weight room, putting on a couple of pounds. On the ice, I want to get more explosive, work on my shot and on my skating — you can never be too good of a skater.”
Truer words were never spoken as Kristo excused himself to go to his 20th and final interview of the day. By the next afternoon, he was back in Minnesota, waiting for this weekend, when he will know which of the 24 teams that he met last month was the most serious when they told him, “good interview,” as he left their suite.