Greger Hanson had options when he was released from his team in the ECHL earlier this month. Multiple hockey teams inquired about the possibility of acquiring a promising rookie with international experience.
Hanson quickly determined that the best option was playing for the Thunder. He joined the team during training camp and his addition has been a bright spot in Wichita’s 1-3-1 start. Hansen leads the Thunder with seven points, and his five assists are tops among Central Hockey League rookies.
Hanson has acclimated himself on a line that includes seasoned returning forwards Matt Summers and R.G. Flath, who have 12 points between them.
"It was definitely the best out of several possibilities," said the Sweden-born Hanson, who played collegiately at Northern Michigan. "Every person I talked to told me to go to Wichita because it’s by far the best place to play in the CHL. I love it here, I love the city and I love playing for a good organization like Wichita."
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In five games, Hanson hasn’t been overwhelmed by playing on Wichita’s top line with two more experienced players. Instead, Hanson’s skills complement those of Flath and Summers, as Hanson has an acceleration and scoring touch that can help lead to scoring opportunities.
The trio owns seven of the Thunder’s 17 goals and have a combined plus-seven rating; the rest of Wichita’s active roster has accumulated a minus-six, and no other forwards can claim a positive number.
Hanson has been mentored some by Summers, his roommate. Their increased boding has led to improved chemistry that has helped Wichita’s starting line notch 12 assists.
"We’ve talked a lot of hockey, that’s our favorite thing in the world," Hanson said about his conversations with Summers. "We’ve talked a lot, and especially since we’re on the same line we try to talk about things that we can improve and things that we do good that we can do even more of."
The 24-year-old Hanson has earned the attention of NHL teams. Two summers ago, he participated in New York Rangers prospect camp and in 2011 he was in a similar camp held by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Those showcases didn’t lead to opportunities with affiliates of those franchises, but Hanson is determined to make his way up the ladder. He played last season in Sweden but Hanson feels the United States offers him the optimal path to furthering his career. The camps offered him a glimpse into how to do so.
"That was obviously real good experience," Hanson said. "It’s good to play with people on that level to see what it takes to make it, to see whether you can compare with those players or not. It was two really good organizations and it was cool to see everything like their day-to-day operations."
Hanson is an asset for the Thunder in multiple ways. He’s strong on the power play, a weakness for Wichita during the postseason last spring, and his high shot volume plays into the Thunder’s preferred fast pace.
Hanson has recognized that the best way to avoid a difficult rookie season is to start it positively.
"It’s obviously nice to get a good start, point-wise," Hanson said. "You always want to show people what you can do and get a good first impression."
Thunder adds Reaney — Wichita acquired forward Les Reaney from Rapid City in exchange for future considerations. The 28-year-old Rainey has played for the Rush since 2009, accumulating 194 points in 186 games. He has not played this season.