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William Nylander needs someone to save his place

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William Nylander left for the World Junior Championships in Helsinki holding top spot in the AHL points race. With the Toronto Marlies on a break until after Christmas, it's a convenient time to look at who's gunning to keep his seat warm for him while he's gone.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlies lead the league in points percentage—the method used now to determine ranking—and they have scored the most goals. No other team has a goal differential that comes close to theirs except the Wilkes-Barre Penguins. The Marlies are a high-scoring, high-event team, with a middling-rank goals against, so it isn't surprising to find more than one Toronto player high in the points standings.

I took the top 20 scorers in total points as of December 19, and compiled what extra numbers are available to take as deep a look as possible at the league's top skaters.

The Marlies have four skaters on the list, Wilkes-Barre has three, and no other team has more than one or two. There's two defencemen: T.J. Brennan of the Marlies, and Brandon Montour of the San Diego Gulls. There's five rookies on the list, and some guys who are AHL veterans.

The AHL is two things: it's a development league sending players to the NHL, and it's also a collecting place for players who aren't quite NHL calibre. A look at the top 20 reveals they are both of those groups, but they do skew young.

Before you can score enough to get on a list like this, you have to shoot, and the following shows the shots on goal per game played. The list is sorted by points per game played, highest to lowest.

Aside from seeing William Nylander still on top even when we allow for differing number of games played, what stands out for me is that only two guys are shooting more than Nylander and Arcobello, and they both play for Wilkes-Barre.

T.J. Brennan shoots a lot for a defenceman, something that's been happening with the Leafs as well where several defencemen have high shot-rates.

Josh Leivo is obviously a set-up man who passes more than he shoots, and his assists to goals ratio reflects that.

Goals are much more fun than just shots, so let's have a look at those. Note the shades of blue on the points per game bar, it tells you who's old, who's young, and who is very young.

If you look closely at the even strength goals per game, you will see that only Devin Shore has a higher rate than Nylander, and he's currently shooting at over 27%. Nylander and Arcobello both have high but not absurd shooting percentages around 17%.

Nylander is not unique in being very, very good at his age. In third place is Mikko Rantanen, a rookie and the youngest guy on the list, who like Arcobello, has played 20 games to Nylander's 27. All three of them are scoring at a very similar rate even if the way they're getting points is very different. But the two teenagers are well ahead of the other U20 players in the AHL as of now. Nylander can back up this season's numbers with another 37 games played last year at 0.86 points per game.

Of course, Nylander's and Rantanen's elite teenage peers are primarily in the CHL, the NCAA or playing for the Zurich Lions of the Swiss league (or in the NHL), so we can't really compare them very easily, but it's safe to say these two prospects are both very, very good. Next up for both of them is the WJC, and we'll be able to see how they stack up against each other and that Auston Matthews fellow. Oh, and Mitch Marner—I've heard he's good too.

When they're all back, we'll see who is warming that seat at the top and how long they get to keep it.