NHL draft prospect Andrew Cristall knows ‘super-humble’ Connor Bedard better than anyone

Cristall is a talented forward in his own right and a potential Blackhawks target with the 19th or 35th pick. But he’s also notable as the longtime best friend of Bedard, the Hawks’ guaranteed first pick.

SHARE NHL draft prospect Andrew Cristall knows ‘super-humble’ Connor Bedard better than anyone
Connor Bedard (left) and Andrew Cristall (right).

Connor Bedard (left) and Andrew Cristall (right) were opponents in the WHL this past season but are longtime friends.

Steve Dunsmore/Kelowna Rockets

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Connor Bedard’s skill on the ice is obvious. But what is he like off the ice, out of the spotlight, when he’s just being a normal teenager?

Andrew Cristall, one of Bedard’s closest friends since they first became hockey teammates at age 5, knows that answer perhaps better than anyone.

‘‘He’s an unbelievable guy, super-humble and really down-to-earth,’’ Cristall said Saturday at the NHL scouting combine.

Bedard and Cristall are staying fit through the offseason by playing on an inline hockey team alongside longtime friend and Blue Jackets rookie Kent Johnson. They also roomed together this week in Buffalo and, during their free time, battled to a 2-2 draw in table tennis.

Cristall is relatively accustomed to the limelight himself. The small winger projects to be a late first-round pick after producing 95 points in 54 games this season for the Kelowna Rockets, ranking sixth in scoring in the Western Hockey League.

He’s a possibility for the Blackhawks with the 19th pick (if they’re very high on him) or the 35th pick (if he slips into the second day of the draft).

But even while pushing toward his own professional future, Cristall has been amazed by the storm that has built around Bedard, whose 143 points in 57 games for the Regina Pats led the WHL by a 36-point margin.

‘‘It hasn’t just been [lots of attention] the past year; he’s been dealing with this stuff since he was 13 or 14,’’ Cristall said. ‘‘It has been pretty wild. Seeing him go through it, if I was ever going through something, I’d have him to lean on because he’s so wise and he’s got a lot of experience.

‘‘[His shot has] always been pretty scary. Obviously now, it’s a little bit of a different beast. [But even] back when he was 13, we were always skating out there, and he was ripping [shots] bar-down when we were just trying to get the puck in the air. It’s pretty ridiculous.’’

Through the years, Cristall has learned from watching it. He can do quite a bit more than elevate his own shot at this point.

‘‘I try to get different release points and change the [shooting] angle a little bit,’’ he said. ‘‘Being able to learn from Connor has helped my shot tremendously.’’

Bedard said he has perfected his shot by watching video of Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews, by using a larger stick than normal for his size and by learning to ‘‘manipulate’’ the stick positioning of opposing defensemen.

He also sent praise back in Cristall’s direction.

‘‘He’s probably the smartest hockey player I’ve gotten to play with and watch this year,’’ Bedard said. ‘‘The things he’s able to do out there with the puck and how well he creates offense is some of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s a special player, and he’s going to make a team really happy.’’

Cristall’s disappointing results in the WHL playoffs and in the under-18 world championships slightly lowered his stock, and his size (5-9½ and 175 pounds) will give some NHL teams pause.

Nonetheless, his nifty stick-handling, knack for creating offense in various ways and intelligence — he said his ‘‘brain and hockey IQ definitely set me apart’’ — make him an intriguing prospect.

Bedard, meanwhile, measured in Saturday at a similar 5-9¾ and 185 pounds, but his size won’t be a problem at all.

The expected No. 1 pick laughed about falling short of 5-10, which he had told fellow first-rounder Nate Danielson was his goal, but he admitted he doesn’t ‘‘think it matters.’’ His muscularity was clear for all to see, and his 14 pull-ups fell one short of the combine high.

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