When the USHL assembled their All-Star squad to send north to Camrose, Alberta for the 2008 World Junior A Challenge, they gathered several top 2009 prospects, a smattering of overage leaders and capped things off with a few NHL drafted prospects. One of the names from the latter group that stands out from the pack is that of Montreal Canadiens pick Danny Kristo.
The Habs used a second round pick on the offensive-minded winger after he had a successful season with the National Development Program. That international experience from U17 and U18 tournaments is a large part of why he was added to the WJAC squad, but certainly the fact that he’s an impact player was the clincher.
This season, the Minnesota native is a rookie with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers and according to Kristo, his team hasn’t gotten off to a great start.
“We’re doing OK right now, I think we’re starting to pick it up here,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of injury problems but I think we’ll step it up when we get back [from Camrose].”
Kristo is joined in Camrose by Omaha leading scorer Pat Mullane. Kristo speaks very highly of his new home and the league where he’s still just getting his feet wet.
“The fans are great. We have a pretty big rink but we have good fans and the league is a really good league to get exposure. And it’s a fun league to play in because there are fans every night,” Kristo said.
Not that he needs the exposure anymore, considering Kristo has already been drafted by Montreal and has his NCAA career mapped out as well. Next season he’ll commit the sin of joining the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, not the expected destination of players from Golden Gopher territory.
“Growing up we had family ties in North Dakota and so we used to go there for visits,” he explained. “Since I was little I had been going to the rink there and so I’ve always known that that is where I wanted to play.”
Kristo is still a senior in high school, but he’s looking forward to pulling on the green and black UND sweater.
“I’m just finishing up my credits and then I’ll be headed there next year,” he confirmed. “I’m very excited; I’ve been committed for a while and the coaches are great there and it’s a great group of guys so I’m already excited for next year.”
Looking at where he’s been and where Kristo is slated to go in the future, he’s connected to some of the more prestigious teams available. Certainly the National Program has some of the best players in the country, Omaha is more historic franchises in the USHL’s history, UND is a top NCAA program and there is no need to debate that Montreal is the most successful hockey organization in the history of the sport. Kristo talked about his draft day experience and what it means to be a part of such a storied franchise.
“Draft day is really something you can’t explain; you have to go through it [to fully appreciate it],” he began. “You go through the day trying to stay positive hoping to hear your name get picked and luckily I got drafted by such a great team. It feels incredible because there is so much respect for that organization. I’ve been out there for a camp and you see how respected and how great they treat their fans and the fans give it back. It looks like a great place to play.”
The 18-year-old was asked to look ahead and envision wearing the fabled jersey of les Canadiens and the pressure that comes with it, however Kristo smoothly took the question in stride.
“I try not to look ahead so much, I really do try and take it one day at a time,” he said while hiding his book of clichés behind him. “I’ve got plenty of time and I’m just trying to help out my team back in Omaha.”
Team USA’s head coach at the WJAC is Mark Carlson, who also patrols the bench in Cedar Rapids (USHL). Although there is some familiarity between coach and player, Carlson is really just starting to get to know most of his players in Camrose including Kristo.
During USA’s 5-3 round robin win over Canada East, Kristo was at the top of his game netting a pair of goals and adding and assist as well. Emotionally he was definitely into the game but perhaps went overboard as he engaged in a showboating feud with Canada’s bench that escalated with each goal.
Eventually both benches were warned by the referee to get back to sportsmanship and coach Carlson replied by having a one-sided heated exchange with Kristo. Asked afterwards about Kristo, the coach explained his side of things.
“We have to remember that these are young kids and they’re learning. He got a little emotional there so we had a little conversation and I let him know that it’s unacceptable and that it’s not how we want to behave as a team,” Carlson said. “We’ve only been together here as a team for three or four days so I’m just getting to know Danny. I certainly appreciate his passion and when he learns to channel that he’s only going to be that much better of a player.”
Kristo was also asked about that part of the game.
“It just gets competitive out there and we were just jawing back and forth, nothing personal, but you just get fired up,” he said while comparing it to trash talking you’d hear on any basketball court. “After the game you let it go. It’s just part of hockey.”
When it came to what was said to him by the coach, Kristo played it a little closer to his chest.
“I don’t think I need to repeat everything, but I think I learned my lesson,” he smiled.
Kristo is now listed at 6’0 and 184 lbs and is never going to be confused with a power forward, but what he does exceedingly well is skate and create offense. A staple on the power play and noticeable by his constant stick tapping as he requests a pass, Kristo shows a lot of patience controlling the tempo and flow of the game in the offensive zone. A crisp passer with a quick and accurate shot of his own, he’s a dangerous opponent whenever he’s on the ice.
Unfortunately for the Americans, Kristo was unable to play against Russia on Thursday due to a high ankle sprain. It was unclear whether he would return to the ice in time for the conclusion of the tournament, but the forward was hopeful that he’d be able to contribute to a potential gold medal for his country.