It was two years ago this month that the NHL got a rude awakening to the Internet age, almost suffering their very own Rick Roll thanks to the work of one fan. However, this season, Rory Fitzpatrick will legitimately represent his league during the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic in Worcester, Massachusetts. And, guess what, he's captain! Who else is going, and what how does it impact their fantasy value?
Unlike the NHL, the American League doesn't field two teams based on league or continent. Instead, since 1997, a team of Canadian-born players faces off against, well, the world.
Mike Iggulden (NYI): Since making an extremely strong debut for then-affiliate Cleveland in 2005-06, there had been plenty of optimism that free agent college signee Mike Iggulden could become the lastest in a line of San Jose steals. However, despite increasing production each year and a cup of coffee last year with the Sharks, Iggulden's contract was no renewed. Now in the Islanders organization, look for Iggulden to get a call-up if and when Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and perhaps Mike Sillinger are traded at the deadline. It will likely be the 26 year-old's last opportunity to catch the eye of an NHL suitor.
Corey Locke (MIN): Another enigmatic talent changing colors this season, former OHL star and Montreal draft pick Corey Locke resurfaced in 2008-09 with the Minnesota Wild's Houston Aeros. In the final year of his deal, the 5'9 center has posted a strong performance, netting a team-high 46 points in 43 games. Locke will likely finish out the year in the AHL, but Minnesota's history of turning out reclaimation projects means there's still hope for the 24 year-old to gain big league employment.
Brett MacLean (PHO): Like Dany Roussin and Marc Pouliot before him, Brett MacLean's major junior career was spent in the shadow of a young phenom. Now making his pro debut, the 2nd round draft pick of the Coyotes in 2007 is showing it wasn't all just John Tavares. While 24 points in 44 games doesn't look like a whole lot, it's good enough for fifth on the San Antonio Rampage, while MacLean's 13 goals is second. A hard-working winger with a nose for the hard areas, MacLean might be forced to return to the A for one more year in 2009-10 due to Phoenix's depth.
Mark Mancari (BUF): If it wasn't for a seven-game stint with the Buffalo Sabres, Mark Mancari would likely have tallied more points in the AHL this season than he ever did in a single year of major junior. That's development for you. A 6'4 winger with the ability to crash and bang at an elite level, Mancari spent most of his NHL action in the bottom six, creating energy and space. However, the 7th round draft pick's minor league resume is hinting at bigger and better contributions down the road.
Cal O'Reilly (NSH): One of the best fifth round picks in modern memory, former OHL star Cal O'Reilly has had no trouble bringing his game to the American League. However, despite a mind-boggling 187 points in 204 games, 2009 is the first year the dazzling playmaker will represent his country at the AHL All-Star Classic. Second in assists in the league as a 22 year-old, the Toronto native was recently called up to the Predators along with teammate Mike Santorelli. However, neither saw NHL action before being sent down to the A for the All-Star Break.
Teddy Purcell (LAK): A pre-season favorite of mine to contend for the Calder Trophy, Teddy Purcell got the best Christmas gift he could ask for in December when he was thrown onto Los Angeles' top line with Patrick O'Sullivan and Anze Kopitar. However, after a hot start, Purcell went pointless in four games, and promptly found himself on the fourth line until he was demoted earlier this week. Fourth in team scoring despite missing almost 20 games while in the show, Manchester will be glad to have Purcell back- but fantasy owners won't.
Mike Santorelli (NSH): Like Cal O'Reilly, Mike Santorelli has proven to be a quick starter in the AHL- and he'll have to be. Already 23 despite being an AHL sophomore, Santorelli had as many points at the All-Star break as he did all of last season. A cerebral, hard-working player already too good for the A, it's only a matter of what role the 2004 sixth round selection will play in the NHL. He's not big or mean enough to be a checker, and perhaps not skilled enough for a scoring role.
Kyle Cumiskey (COL): The most seasoned of the Canadian All-Stars when it comes to NHL time, 22 year-old defenseman Kyle Cumiskey has spent most of it in relative obscurity on the bottom pairing of the Colorado Avalanche. A powerplay specialist, the 5'10 rearguard has just seven points in 52 NHL games. While it hasn't helped that Cumiskey has been shuttled back and forth between Colorado and the A since 2006-07, doubt is now beginning to build that he has the right stuff- and body- to last in the league. In AHL action, Cumiskey leads Lake Erie's defense in scoring by a country mile, and his 12 helpers are second-best on the entire team.
Cody Franson (NSH): A veritabel after-thought in Nashville's loaded defensive pipeline, 21 year-old Cody Franson has perhaps the most prolific offensive resume of any of them. An imposing 6'4, Franson instead utilized strong skating ability and intelligence during his WHL career, potting 106 points over his last two seasons. Franson's offensive contributions have followed him to the pros; after netting 36 points as an AHL rookie last year, the 2005 3rd round pick is on pace to break 40 and perhaps sniff 50 in his second year. If the Preds were closer to the playoff picture, Franson might have some appeal as tradebait in a deadline deal. As it is, Nashville's defense is simply too stocked to accomodate him.
Derek Joslin (SJ): Another 21 year-old building on a solid rookie campaign, 2005 fifth rounder Derek Joslin is on pace to shatter his first-year totals in 2008-09. After years of 30, 48 and 49 points in the Ontario Hockey League, Joslin potted 34 in his pro debut with the host Worcester Sharks. On pace to double those totals despite missing seven games to play with the Sharks, Joslin is still no closer to cracking San Jose full-time. A potential Finals team, the Sharks have been content to keep their roster intact for most of the year, meaning Joslin and other prospects- will have to wait for 2009-10 for their chance at a full-time job.
Missing: Brian Elliott (NHL), Claude Giroux (NHL), Steve Downie (NHL), Martin St. Pierre (NHL)
Artem Anisimov (NYR): One of the under-reported stories of 2008-09 has been the sensational play of 20 year-old pivot Artem Anisimov. Already ahead of last year's numbers over a full season, the 6'5 Anisimov is posting the kinds of numbers not seen by a player his age since the likes of Daniel Briere. While it would be a little too optimistic to call Anisimov a lock to be a first-line center, it's certainly not crazy to say the 2006 2nd rounder will be an NHL fixture very soon. In 45 games, Anisimov leads the Hartford Wolfpack with 20-27-47 in just 45 games.
Chris Bourque (WAS): While Hershey's Alexandre Giroux has garnered endless AHL headlines for his record-breaking goal streak, the less-told side of the story is the way Chris Bourque has helped him get there. A PPG player for the first time in the AHL with a 10-30-40 line in 40 games, the 22 year-old has impressed Washington brass to the point that he's considered a shoe-in NHLer for next year. While Bourque won't be a top six forward, he should still provide some fantasy value.
Martins Karsums (BOS): Martins Karsums is the most forgotten prospect in the Bruins pipeline. The 22 year-old Latvian native has been an AHLer since 2006-07, toiling in the minors while players like David Krejci and Phil Kessel steal the spotlight. However, Karsums is quickly approaching his own stardom. An AHL All-Star for the first time, Karsums leads Providence in goals and points with 41 in 42 games. Boston's system is loaded with RWs, from Kessel to Michael Ryder to Blake Wheeler to Chuck Kobasew. It's possible the Bs use Karsums to try and add a veteran or two for what should be a long playoff run.
Ryan Potulny (EDM): Edmonton's lone representative in the AHL All-Star Classic, 24 year-old Ryan Potulny would be in the NHL right now if Oilers coach Craig MacTavish had any sense. Despite displaying immediate chemistry with forwards Sam Gagner and Erik Cole on the second line, Potulny was sent down after amassing three points in four games. Springfield's leader in goals and points, Potulny also has one of the better plus/minus ratings on a team that has been decimated by call-ups.
Jonas Junland (STL): There's such a thing, believe it or not, as having too much good young talent. The St. Louis Blues are in that position right now. With Barret Jackman, Erik Johnson, Alex Pietrangelo, Steve Wagner and Jeff Woywitka all under 30 and all challenging for roster spots, the team will have to make some decisions. That process will be more difficult thanks to the breakout of Jonas Junland. St. Louis' third round selection in 2006, Junland is Peoria's leading blueline scorer in his first year in North America.
Jakub Kindl (DET): Jakub Kindl has had a rough go of it in his first taste of the pro game. However, it's all coming around for the former first rounder, and at the right time. An AHL All-Star thanks to a 27-point season for Grand Rapids, Kindl is breaking out at the right time. With several big pieces in their FA year, the Wings will need to consider cutting extra contracts on D if they hope to retain Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler, to say nothing of Marian Hossa. The cheap contracts of Kindl and fellow prospect Jonathan Ericsson were always an option, but now their play is at the level where both could be regular contributors.
Bobby Sanguinetti (NYR): Anisimov isn't the only major surprise in Hartford. While Bobby Sanguinetti's calling has always been all-out offensive play, few would have expected the 20 year-old to be the third-highest scoring player on his entire team. Still rough defensively, the lack of affordable puck-movers in New York helps Sanuginetti's cause. He should be a sixth defender next year if the Rags can find a home for Michal Roszival.
Yannick Weber (MON): One of the great things about taking older players is that they're already a year ahead in development. Such is the case for Yannick Weber. While technically a member of the 2007 Draft class, the Swiss native would have been eligible the year prior had he been born a week earlier. Now 20, Weber has needed just two OHL seasons to crack the American Hockey League. In 37 games, Montreal's third round selection leads the Hamilton Bulldogs D in scoring with an impressive 9-15-24 line.
Jeff Frazee (NJ): What the ****? After three mediocre seasons as a backup for the University of Minnesota, 2005 second round selection Jeff Frazee has gone from afterthought and potential bust to an AHL All-Star at the age of 21. After allowing 3 goals in 40 minutes of work in his one and only AHL game last year, Frazee went down to the Trenton Devils of the ECHL and posted solid numbers in a handful of games. It was expected Frazee would again start the year in the E, but an injury to Devils starter Martin Brodeur provided Frazee an opportunity to start in the A. So far, he's run with it. In 28 games, Frazee has a sparkling 2.38 GAA and 0.931 Sv%. With Scott Clemmenson likely headed for a bigger paycheque in free agency afterh is admirable fill-in for Brodeur, Frazee will likely be Lowell's full-time starter again next year, becoming an NHL backup the year after.
Daniel Larsson (DET): Another Henrik Zetterberg or Nicklas Lidstrom? Probably not. But the Wings appear to have once again hit gold with a pick from Sweden. 22 year-old Daniel Larson was a 3rd round selection of Detroit in 2006 after being an Allsvenskan starter at an extremely young age. A SEL standout the past two seasons, Larsson is finally making his North American debut, and has looked every bit as good as he did overseas. 15-5-1 in 24 games for Grand Rapids, Larsson's 2.35 GAA and 0.924 Sv% are just a peek at things to come. With Chris Osgood stumbling, look for him to seriously challenge for a roster spot next fall.
Missing: Nikita Filatov (NHL), Tim Kennedy (injury), Nate Gerbe (injury)