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WICHITA, Kan. – It’s not often a head coach can find an impact rookie forward at this time of the year, but it appears Thunder bench boss Malcolm Cameron has done just that.

Ryan Van Stralen joined the Thunder roster on February 26 after a four-year career at Carleton University where he played in 97 career games for the Ravens, recording 93 points (48G, 45A) and 226 penalty minutes. For the 24-year-old forward, the decision to join Wichita was purely a gut feeling.

“I had a few East Coast teams show some interest, but I think Malcolm and I had some pretty good talks right away. We didn’t know much of each other before the first phone call, but we had three really good talks and it was more gut feeling. I liked how the team was sitting and his mindset going forward.”

Van Stralen says the transition from Canadian University to the ECHL has forced him to adjust his game.

“It’s a lot faster with the puck and decision making. I think that’s been something that I have been and still am adjusting to, elevating that part of the game every night,” Van Stralen said. “I think when you get the puck in a league as talented as this it’s ‘what are you going to do with it right away?'”

It certainly has helped that the rookie has been paired with veteran Mark MacMillan and second-year forward Ralph Cuddemi. Since the trio was put together during the game against Idaho on March 2, they have combined for 25 points (12G, 13A). Being paired with two seasoned ECHL players has helped Ryan find his stride right off the bat.

“They are exceptional players and I think that’s made the jump to this league so much easier, playing with so much talent,” Van Stralen said. “They’ve helped me so much both on and off the ice when I’ve had to pick their brain about certain things.”

So far, Malcolm Cameron has been very impressed with his rookie acquisition.

“When you’re a package of 6-foot-3, 220 (pounds), can skate, can fight…that’s a real good package to have,” Cameron said. “This is a great experience for him and a chance to open some eyes up for him for next year. We’re very, very happy for him and what’s he’s bringing to the table.”

With the Thunder closing in on their first playoff berth in over five years, Van Stralen says there are still aspects of his game he’d like to improve upon as the regular season winds down.

“I think the easiest thing for me to do is to finish my checks and play a physical game,” Van Stralen said. “But Being here and seeing the different challenges that comes with pro, I really want to focus on defensive zone — be more reliable — focus on my own end and take care of business there and hopefully become a more well-rounded and reliable player.”

Van Stralen and the Thunder continue their eight-game road trip in Kalamazoo, Mich. against the Wings on Thursday night.

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