LAKE PLACID, N.Y.
-- Dean Blais coached the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League last season, so he had a front-row seat when his team faced Danny Kristo
and the Omaha Lancers.
Kristo had 2 goals and 1 assist in five regular-season games, and 3 goals in the teams' first-round playoff series, which the Force won in a three-game sweep.
Kristo left an impression on Blais, and he's reinforced that feeling in his coach, as well as the entire USA Hockey staff, with his performance here at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp.
"I saw him in the (USHL) playoffs, but he's at another level here," Blais told NHL.com. "I don't know what he did over the summer, but he did something to improve himself. He's got a little bit of quickness to his game. I always knew he was a pretty good sniper."
His sniping abilities saw him score 2 goals in the first exhibition game against Russia. He scored the opening goal on a quick wrist shot from the slot off an offensive-zone turnover, and he scored a power-play goal late in the second period.
In the second game he was just as good. He again scored the opening goal with a shot from the low slot. And then he helped set up Cam Fowler
power-play goals in the second and third period.
Also drawing assists on Fowler's goals was Kristo's linemate, Derek Stepan
. In fact, the trio of Stepan in the middle, Kristo at right wing and Jerry D'Amigo
on the left side is the only one to remain intact through the first two exhibition games. Considering the threesome has combined for 3 goals and 7 assists, there's certainly reason to keep them together.
"They just complement each other," said Blais. "Kristo is a sniper. … Stepan's a puck mover, reliable, pretty good hockey sense, gritty. The line seems to be working. That's what we're looking for here. If a line seems to have a little chemistry, leave it together and see how it unfolds."
"Jerry is a hard-working guy, I played with him last year," Stepan told NHL.com. "He's always been a hard-working guy. Me and Kristo played together when we were younger (in Minnesota), we kind of think the same way. Jerry just fit like a glove and we just seem to find each other on the ice. It seems pretty nice."
It's been especially nice for Kristo, who leads the team with 3 goals and 5 points in the first two games against Russia.
"It's just been going well," Kristo told NHL.com. "When your linemates are playing well and you know where each other is, everything takes care of itself. That's the way it usually goes on the ice."
Much is expected from Kristo, who is one of three holdovers from the U.S. team that finished fifth at the 2009 World Junior Championship. Kristo had 1 goal in six games in Ottawa.
"I had a limited role last year, but I took it as it was, did what ever I could for the team," Kristo said. "I watched Canada win the gold medal, and you see what it takes to win. It's hard work, grit, everything combined, and I'm trying to bring that to the team this year."
He's also been good off the ice.
"I think he is a leader, real good in the dressing room," Blais said. "We're not trying to get a captain out of this thing, we have enough time before all that unfolds, but I think he's got those leadership abilities."
When camp ends Kristo, a 2008 Montreal Canadiens
second-round draft pick, will head to the University of North Dakota to continue getting ready for the 2009-10 season. He'll take the things he's learned at this camp, as well as at the Canadiens' prospect camp he attended in July, and continue to build and develop.
"When you get drafted it's a dream come true, but what people need to realize is it doesn't mean anything," Kristo said. "It's what you do with it. You go to camp and there are so many guys there that are just as good as you. You're battling these guys and you have to realize how hard you have to work to make it to where you want to make it to."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.