Danny Kristo has always had a nose for the net.
At the University of North Dakota, he was good for a goal every other game, while netting 47 goals in 137 combined games over the last two seasons with the Hartford WolfPack.
But after joining the St. Louis Blues organization this past off-season as a free agent, the 25-year-old is off to the best start of his career with the Chicago Wolves.
Kristo has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in his first 11 games, and he has come up big in clutch moments. Recently in a pair of games against the San Antonio Rampage, Kristo scored twice in overtime to give the Wolves a pair of wins in the Alamo City.
“He’s a natural goal scorer,” Wolves head coach John Anderson said. “You can see when he’s on the ice. He knows where to be and the space to take. It’s a combination of hard work and positioning.”
Kristo also has a deceptively quick release that fools goaltenders. His second game-winner against San Antonio came on a quick snap from between the circles, and the goalie didn’t react until after the puck had whipped past his glove.
And Kristo was a low-risk, potentially high-reward signing for St. Louis this summer.
Kristo was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the 56th pick overall in 2008. He never really had a chance to make an impression with Montreal and was traded to the New York Rangers for Christian Thomas in 2013.
He then spent two seasons in the Rangers’ farm system, but never could break through the bubble and make the NHL.
When he became an unrestricted free agent, Kristo was looking for an organization that could fit his style and potentially give him an NHL opportunity.
“I think just the system was the selling point,” Kristo said. “I was in New York for two years, loved it there. Just had two really good seasons there, but with such a strong team (in the NHL) I didn’t really have a good chance of being called up. I thought coming here would be best. I thought it would be a good fit with how the Blues play.”
The Wolves, like their NHL parent club, play an offensive-minded game. The puck moves quickly and the team sometimes trade chances. It fits perfectly for the smooth-skating Kristo.
“It’s been really good coming here,” Kristo said. “Everyone here has been making it really easy on me … it’s been really great. We’ve got a really skilled team that’s not afraid to play hard.”
Kristo knows he wouldn’t be the first call-up to St. Louis — that honor belongs to teammate Ty Rattie — but his early season start is grabbing attention from the Blues’ front office for future call-ups.
“You can just control what you can control,” Kristo said. “I can just go out there and play hockey. It’s been a great season so far. If I get the call sometime, that’ll be great. For now I’ve got to keep plugging down here and have some fun.”
And for the time being, Kristo is part of a very good team in Chicago.
Through 11 games Chicago leads the AHL’s Central Division with 18 points, and the offense is averaging nearly four goals per game. Chicago also seems perfectly built for 3-on-3 overtime, where Kristo has converted twice.
“Your best players come through at those times,” Anderson said. “There’s no room to hide mistakes. And if you make a mistake, a guy like Kristo will hurt you.”
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