The months of April and May were quite the crash course in the life of young Maple Leaf prospect Christian Hanson.
It started with a five-game stint with the Leafs after being signed as a free agent by the team on March 31. Then mere hours after the season ended on April 11, Hanson was back in a South Bend, Ind., classroom finishing up his business degree at Notre Dame.
“I was up here and back at school in a matter of two weeks,” said Hanson, who is participating in the Leafs’ prospect camp this week. “I woke up one day at school and it felt like it was a dream.”
Getting his degree was important — a point of emphasis made by Leafs general manager Brian Burke — and also the reason he returned to the Irish for his senior season.
“I was able to graduate on time with my classmates,” Hanson said. “That was one of the important things (Burke) said. He wanted me to come and play, but he wanted me to go back and graduate with my friends. ”
In his other major — that of becoming a pro hockey player — Hanson’s brief taste of life in the NHL was equally enlightening.
The 6-foot-4, 220 pounder appeared in five games with the Leafs and scored his first NHL goal on April 7 in New Jersey against legendary Devils netminder Martin Brodeur.
More importantly, Hanson got some invaluable insight into the speed and ruggedness of the pro game, leading to an off-season program to bulk up.
“The biggest thing I realized playing at the end of the year was just how strong the guys are,” said Hanson, who has added 15 pounds over the past three months.
“I’ve just worked on my lower body, trying to get a stronger base. You know that if you go into the corner with a guy like Chris Pronger, you are going to get tossed around a little bit.”
Hanson is one of several young forwards who will be battling for a roster spot in what promised to be a competitive training camp.
“He’s got to find a way to be more aggressive, he was a little tentative at times,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “But he knows he’s got to get bigger and stronger and gather some experience.”