NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
After acquiring him in an offseason trade with the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers' staff made it clear that they had been eyeing forward Danny Kristo, the Canadiens' second-round pick (No. 56) in the 2008 NHL Draft for some time.
The Minnesota native earned plenty of attention last season, enjoying a breakout senior season at the University of North Dakota when he had 26 goals and 52 points in 40 games and was named a first-team All-American.
That remarkable season confirmed Kristo had the skill to find a place on an NHL roster, and the hope was that a series of unique circumstances might help him make the Rangers' roster faster than he expected.
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Top-line forwards Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin both underwent offseason shoulder surgery and appear unlikely to dress for the Rangers on opening night. Those major holes on the wing almost immediately vaulted Kristo into a potential spot in the lineup. Over the course of training camp, the 23-year-old played on multiple lines, at one point jumping on a unit with Brad Richards and Rick Nash during a preseason game Monday against the Calgary Flames.
"The fact that I did play college for four years and I'm a little bit older [helps]," Kristo told NHL.com prior to training camp. "I'm going to camp and I'm just going to work as hard as I can. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to make the team out of training camp."
Kristo made his case right out of the gate, assisting on New York's lone goal in a 2-1 preseason loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sept. 16. In a 4-1 loss to Calgary on Monday, Kristo had a minus-2 rating, but his four shots on goal led the team and he showed bursts of speed that allowed him to make plays.
The Rangers assigned Kristo to their AHL affiliate in Hartford on Sept. 25, and while that means it's almost certain he won't be on the team's opening-night roster, his international and college experience could make him a candidate for a quick recall if a roster spot suddenly open up.
Injuries and the unresolved contract status of top center Derek Stepan have given an opportunity to a number of other Rangers prospects. Marek Hrivik and Jesper Fast both assisted on Marc Staal's power-play goal against Calgary and have been staking their claim to roster spots for opening night.
had 26 goals and 52 points in 40 games during his senior year at the University of North Dakota. (Photo: Getty Images)
But if Kristo has one thing going for him in his quest for an NHL roster spot, it's experience. He's not much older than Fast and Hrivik, but he did serve as an alternate captain on a standout UND team last season. He also saw time with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Canadiens' American Hockey League team, and when that season ended, he joined the United States team for the 2013 IIHF World Championship and helped the team win the bronze medal.
"The first couple of games, playing against [Ilya] Kovalchuk and [Alexander] Radulov and all those guys, just being out there on the ice with those guys and realizing it's just the same game you always played, realizing maybe I'm ready to play at this level," Kristo said. "I had a good tournament, so it was a confidence booster. I think it was good for me heading into my first training camp, knowing that I can play at this level with those guys."
Kristo's experience at North Dakota also should serve him well with the Rangers. A top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given annually to the top Division I hockey player, Kristo was a standout in a program that in recent seasons has seen the likes of Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie become NHL stars. Playing all four years also helped serve the 5-foot-11 forward's development in a way he hopes would give him a boost in competing for a place in the Rangers' lineup.
"You're a little bit older than some of the other guys going into their first camp," he said. "Just the experiences I went through in college, four years playing on the big stage. I'm pretty comfortable heading into training camp. I'm excited to get going."