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Kristo on the rise

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – While there might be a few Habs fans out there who forgot that Danny Kristo was the Habs’ first selection in the 2008 draft, rest assured – the young forward is doing everything he can to remind them why.

Currently wrapping up the tail-end of his third season with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Kristo initially became a hot topic of conversation after a foot injury, sustained last year, launched him briefly into the spotlight. Since that time, the Eden Prairie, Minnesota native has seemingly double his efforts on the ice, helping his team emerge as one of the top-ranked squads among all American universities.

Kristo is among the Sioux leaders in points, posting 18 goals and 43 points so far this season. (Eric Classen/UND Athletics)

The 2011-12 season held more of same for Kristo, who not only contributed to his team cracking WCHA’s top 5, but he also had a great season offensively, posting a total of 18 goals and 43 points.

“I’ve been having a good season to this point. I think my linemates, Corban Knight, Brock Nelson and I have pretty good chemistry out there together. It’s pretty easy to go out there and make a lot plays with them,” explained Kristo, originally drafted by the Canadiens 56th overall at the NHL Entry Draft four years ago.

"Obviously, getting older and going to school, I think I just matured more as a person and as a player. I think physically I’ve gotten stronger since my freshmen year thanks to the work that I’ve done over the summers up here,” continued Kristo. “As I got older, I’ve been playing a better two-way game and my skills have gotten a little bit sharper as well.”

Like the vast majority of young players aspiring to take their first strides in the NHL, the road to achieving their goal is a long one, filled with obstacles. Any help navigating that road can go a long way, and for that reason, Kristo has been eager to assume the role of sponge at every summer development camp he’s attended since being welcomed into the Canadiens organization.

With a solid offensive skill-set already in place upon his arrival, the 21-year-old winger headed back to the U.S. with a checklist of tasks to help him improve his game and ultimately reach his full potential.

“They told me to mostly work on my strength, to move the puck a little bit quicker, to find the open guy on the ice, and try not to be too pretty sometimes,” shared Kristo of the advice that helped him reach a personal high of 25 assists in his current campaign. “I’ve learned a lot from each summer camp in Montreal since I’ve been drafted.”

“I talk to Trevor Timmins every now and then,” he added. “We have a pretty good relationship. He usually gives me little things to work on and little things to do to keep getting better.”

The Canadiens’ director of procurement and player development isn’t the only one within the organization making sure to keep in touch with the 2010 World Junior gold-medal winner. During his time as a member of the USHL’s Omaha Lancers in 2008-09, Kristo met a young center, a year his junior, with whom he would go on to form a close friendship.

For those wondering, the player in question – the Habs’ first-round draft-pick in 2009, who made his NHL debut this season – has stayed in contact with his former teammate, offering up some first-hand knowledge about what’s waiting for him up in Montreal.

“I have a pretty good relationship with Louis Leblanc. We talk pretty frequently I’d say,” shared Kristo who finished just behind Leblanc as the Lancers’ second-hightest scorer while they were both on the team. “He said playing in the NHL is a lot of fun and that there’s a lot of pressure and stuff like that. I was really happy to see him score his first goal in the league and he’s having a real strong first season in the NHL.”

Similar to Leblanc who was faced with a major decision early in his young career, Kristo will also soon find himself grappling with some pretty important questions over the next couple of weeks. Eligible to play a final season at the university level in 2012-13, the Fighting Sioux’s leading scorer will have to opt between staying with his current team or making a move into the professional ranks.

The recreation and tourism-studies major has yet to sign a contract with the Canadiens, and while playing at a higher level certain has its upside, these days, Kristo only has one thing on his mind.

I spoke with a few people about making the transition into the pros,” said Kristo. “Obviously they say the game is faster and the players are stronger in the pros. I think I’m ready with my speed pushing my game but I still need to work on my strength first.

“There’s definitely the possibility of maybe leaving school after this season. But I’m not really thinking about that too much right now. I’m more focused on helping my team in the playoffs,” finished Kristo, evidently hungry to lead his team to an eighth national championship.

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for Translated by Justin Fragapane.

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