Always be prepared. A mantra that is all too true in the world of fantasy hockey. My Open Ice columns this season have been forward-thinking to an extent, but we (you and I) haven't sat down for a chat about who is coming down the pipeline. Whether you are in a keeper league or not, it's always good to assess each club's possible call-ups in the event of an injury or a tanked season. There will be a few this season who could have a significant impact on re-draft leagues. Admittedly though, keeper leagues are the ones who will really want to perk up their ears. If you are "re-building" your team in a shallow keeper, some of these players could go a long way to keeping you competitive this season and getting you ready for next year.
So let's talk about some AHL'ers and how they have been faring this season.
Kyle Okposo, RW, Sound Tigers (Islanders): After blowing minds in his rookie collegiate season by posting 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points (in 40 games), Okposo decided to go back for another year of hockey with the University of Minnesota. However, as Okposo had been cruising along at a respectable 0.61 points per game in late December, Islanders general manager Garth Snow managed to coax Okposo out of college and into an NHL contract. So far, so good. In four games with the Islanders' Bridgeport affiliate, Okposo already has one goal and six assists. The Islanders are going to need that playoff push and it should come from Okposo. Or
Jeff Tambellini, LW, Sound Tigers (Islanders): He was finally called up on Sunday after simply tearing the league apart with 47 points (15 more than the second-best Sound Tiger), but was back down in the AHL a day later. Tambellini has speed, a shot and has consistently averaged more than a point per game at every stop in his career, except during his brief chances in the NHL. He's the scoring port-side forward the Islanders so desperately lack; no offense to Ruslan Fedotenko. Now that the Islanders have shown they are willing to call him up, I expect to see him again soon.
Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, Americans (Sabres): The Sabres need a player like Gragnani, and judging by Buffalo's season thus far, they need him now. Brian Campbell is a pretty good passer and has a great shot, but Gragnani is the type of defenseman who tears all over the ice and makes plays. He's fast and has a bit of a wallop of a shot as well. Despite his team-worst minus-20, Gragnani is actually good defensively. His plus/minus is more indicative of the fact he plays a lot of minutes for a bad team. Before this past season he was cranking out huge offensive numbers for Prince Edward Island of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Sabres are in some deep trouble as far as offense is concerned right now and they might gamble on Gragnani as a boost to their power play.
Jason Krog, C, Wolves (Thrashers): For the second straight season, Krog is ripping up the AHL for the Thrashers' affiliate in Chicago. He was given a brief chance this past season by Atlanta and then shipped off to the Rangers. His 5-foot-11, 188-pound frame doesn't help him get a fair shake in the NHL, but someone has to take notice of his numbers for two years running. In 2006-07 he had 80 points in just 44 games, and this season he is leading all AHL scorers with 57 points in 39 games. One has to wonder how much longer Atlanta can watch Marian Hossa underwhelm without giving Krog at least a chance to shake things up.
Martin St. Pierre, C, Icehogs (Blackhawks): Like Krog, St. Pierre has established himself as a pro at the AHL level. He scored 99 points in 2006-07 (65 games) and trails Krog for the overall lead this season with 55 points in 38 games. One of the reasons I am especially interested in St. Pierre is all the rumors floating around Chicago about the Blackhawks' immediate plans. General manager Dale Tallon has been dropping hints about dealing for a veteran defenseman and there are rumors that they want to unload center Yanic Perreault. Either of those moves would open up the door for St. Pierre to possibly claim work with the big club. The common thread here again, is size. St. Pierre is 5-foot-9, 185 pounds. On the other hand, he has 20 pounds on Patrick Kane.
Mike Iggulden, C, Sharks (Sharks): If he gets the opportunity, he'll be shifted to the wing in San Jose. Iggulden was actually one of the final guys the Sharks sent down to Worcester; it came down to him or Devin Setoguchi (though now, neither is in the NHL). As it is, Iggulden has been thriving in the AHL, with 37 points in 37 games. The Sharks need offense, plain and simple. Joe Thornton has been doing everything by himself. Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau have been of no help, Milan Michalek is hot and cold, and Steve Bernier would be a checker on any other NHL team. Though Iggulden isn't a true sniper, he is an all-around offensive threat and could potentially fit in with any linemate. He also has more size and experience than most top prospects, having finished four years of college and is in his third AHL season.
Brandon Prust, LW, Flames (Flames): How would you like a Daniel Carcillo or Sean Avery with more offense? Meet Prust. A troublemaker on the ice, never afraid to drop his gloves, Prust also has some offense to his game. In 42 games for Quad City this season he has 23 points and 114 PIMs. Those penalty minutes are good for 15th in the AHL. I thought Prust would have started in Calgary this season as he seems like a guy who would be right up Iron Mike Keenan's alley. If he makes the jump and gets real ice time as an agitator, the PIMs alone would make him relevant. Any points would be a bonus.
Pekka Rinne, G, Admirals (Predators): How much longer will we be forced to watch as Chris Mason and Dan Ellis struggle to keep their collective head above water? Seriously, Nashville, you still have a postseason shot here! Rinne has started more games in the AHL than any other goaltender and is holding his own quite well on a borderline-.500 Milwaukee team. With a 2.50 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage, Rinne ranks among the top 15 goaltenders in the league. He has been perfecting his trade in the AHL for three seasons now and looks more and more like a relatively strong No. 1 in the NHL one day. Trial by fire can sometimes be a bad thing (Karri Ramo), but it can work when the team is solid defensively, like Nashville.
Robbie Schremp, C, Falcons (Oilers): The doubters of Schremp pointed to the fact he had only 53 points in 2006-07 as an AHL rookie as evidence that he didn't have the desire to get into the NHL. Desire has been the question about Schremp, as there is no doubt about his skill. A wizard with the puck, Schremp looks as though he wants it this season. With 41 points in 40 games for the Springfield Falcons, he looks primed for a debut in the NHL with the Oilers next season, but what about this one? Well, we probably won't see him. I think he is one of the best keepers for next season and if he does show up later this season I'll be excited, but I don't expect it.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.