Flanigan settles in
Ryan Flanigan had his first professional hockey season mapped out before it started.
A prospect under control of the New York Rangers, Flanigan was a candidate to attend NHL training camp. Even if that hadn’t happened, he’d spend the season with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in Connecticut with a promotion just a phone call away.
Flanigan is still one call from being promoted, but the next stop isn’t the NHL. Thanks in part to the player shuffling the NHL lockout has created, there wasn’t a spot for Flanigan in Connecticut. Instead, the 24-year-old rookie is with the Thunder on assignment from the Rangers, struggling to find ways to contribute.
"I thought there might have been a chance (that the plans wouldn’t materialize), but everything didn’t work out the way I thought it was going to be," Flanigan said. "I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been given."
Flanigan’s status with the Rangers suggests a potentially bright future in the game. But he came to the Thunder with no familiarity with coach Kevin McClelland or most of his teammates, and since he joined the team after the season started it has been difficult for him to earn significant playing time.
In his first six games with the Thunder, Flanigan didn’t register a goal or an assist while playing on Wichita’s third line. He was prepared to be in Triple-A, then resigned to his lot in the ECHL before his assignment to Wichita put him further into uncharted territory.
"It’s been a trying month or two," Flanigan said. "It’s been a little frustrating at some points, but I’ve been trying to stay positive. I’m trying to still work on my game and polish my game so that if and when that callup ever happens, I’m ready to showcase what I have."
The Thunder was initially obligated to keep Flanigan for five games, but after that trial concluded the Rangers were still without a spot for him higher in their organization. That kept Flanigan in Wichita, and his presence is beginning to pay off.
Flanigan notched his first goal, a power-play score, Friday against Rapid City. Two games later he had two assists. McClelland has been using Flanigan on the power play more often, attempting to play to Flanigan’s strengths since he was a solid special teams player in college.
"I just try to go in and hopefully earn a spot and earn some a playing time," Flanigan said. "I’ve just looked at it as another opportunity to prove myself no matter what the case. It’s been a little different, but it’s been good so far."
Flanigan’s eagerness probably stems from a brief late-season stint in the AHL after he completed his collegiate career this spring. Flanigan had a goal and an assist in four games, a small sample size that proved to Flanigan that he can play at a high level and that made him want more.
"It was a great experience all the way around," Flanigan said. "You realize that you can play there if given the opportunity to play there. It gives you confidence to know you can go in and play with some of the better players in the American League. It gives you some confidence and your first little taste of what pro hockey has to offer."
• The Thunder is at its best when multiple players score, either as a result of a balanced offense or of contagious momentum. At least four players have scored in all but one of Wichita’s five wins this season; in the other, a 3-0 win over Missouri, three players accounted for the goals.
• Wichita’s balance is still allowing individuals to shine. With 22 goals during the last five games, one of which was a shutout, plenty of players are delivering points. The Thunder has four of the CHL’s top seven scorers — Greger Hanson, Chad Painchaud and Neil Trimm have 15 points apiece and Matt Summers has 14.
Wichita’s top five scorers, and 10 of the top 11, have a positve plus-minus rating. Only Ian Lowe, at a zero rating, can’t make that claim.
After scoring in its first two power-play opportunities on Friday, Wichita has gone 0 for 13 in extra-man chances since. The Thunder’s power play still sits fourth in the league; Wichita has converted 12 of 59 chances, just over 20 percent.
TAP OF THE STICK
Les Reaney, whom the Thunder acquired in a trade with Rapid City earlier this month, has three points in his first three games with Wichita — or with anyone this season. He has scored two goals on six shots.
Denver and Arizona will meet for the fourth straight time tonight. Arizona won three home games against the Cutthroats over the weekend. The expansion Denver franchise has started 3-6-0, tied for last with six points.
The margin by which the Thunder has outshot opponents through 11 games, an average of more than nine per game.
HE SAID IT
"He’s definitely one of the tougher guys in the league. I have a little bit of a (shoulder) injury right now that was holding me back from fully fighting him, but I still had to go out there, especially after what he did to (Wichita goalie Kevin) Regan."
Thunder forward Erick Lizon about fighting Rapid City’s Alex Penner on Friday. Penner and Regan had a brief shoving match preceding the third-period fight.