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Future Watch: Five rookies tearing up the AHL this season

Lucas Elvenes has been one of the best players in the AHL this season, and he's just a rookie. Here's a look at five newcomers tearing it up in the AHL in 2019-20.
Chicago Wolves

Chicago Wolves

Welcome to the Lucas Elvenes show.

In our 2019-20 Yearbook, Elvenes didn't crack the top 10 NHL prospects list, which makes sense given that he was coming off a disappointing season with Rogle in the Swedish league where he failed to show much improvement. But up until a few weeks ago, the 20-year-old Chicago Wolves center was the only player to lead the AHL in scoring this year. When you start the season with 19 points in your first 13 games – including a four-point North American debut – you're bound to be near the top. AHL veterans Reid Boucher and Drake Batherson have since tied for the top spot with 34 points with Elvenes falling to fifth, but he's still eight points clear of seven-year AHLer Curtis McKenzie for the Wolves' scoring lead.

Yeah, Elvenes is starting to prove everyone wrong. Elvenes, who was a fifth-round draft pick by Vegas in 2017, has thrived since moving to North America, with very few adjustments needed early on. His speed has translated well, he sees the ice as well as he did on the bigger European surfaces and he's the one generating most of his line's scoring chances this year. With the season nearing the halfway point, Elvenes sits four points ahead of Jack Studnicka for the AHL scoring lead among rookies. He's not a big shooter with just 36 shots through 30 games, but the pass-first pivot has a seven-point gap over Providence's Robert Lantosi (13) with 22 assists.

The competition for the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award for the AHL's top rookie is getting closer, but it's still Elvenes' trophy to lose. Here are the other top candidates so far:

Jack Studnicka, C, 20 (Providence)
A year ago, he was playing an important role with Canada's World Junior Championship team in British Columbia. Now, he's tied with Paul Carey for the scoring lead on Providence with 25 points. Studnicka has quickly cemented himself as one of the best up-and-coming centermen in the Bruins' system, using his high-octane energy to create plays for himself. The smart, two-way forward played in two games with the Bruins and didn't look out of pace, recording an assist in his NHL debut. Studnicka is high on Boston's call-up list, but so far he's been instrumental to Providence this season.

Brogan Rafferty, D, 24 (Utica)
Rafferty didn't start the season high up on the depth chart after a three-year run with NCAA Quinnipiac, but with 24 points in 29 games, Rafferty leads all defensemen in scoring, regardless of experience. Sure, playing on a high-scoring Comets team helps, but he leads AHL defensemen with 10 multi-point nights, including a four-point effort against Bridgeport earlier this month. The Canucks already have solid offensive defensemen in Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers, but don't be surprised to see Rafferty earn a spot later in the year.

Mikhail Berdin, G, 21 (Manitoba)
The Moose has played in 31 games this year and Berdin has participated in 27 of them – that's a heavy workload when you consider that just three other AHL goalies have played in 20. The Moose sit sixth out of eight teams in the Central Division, but it would have been worse if not for some big performances from Berdin. In fact, he seems to play better when he faces more opportunities: in the eight games where he had at least 40 saves this year, he has a 5-0-3 record with 17 goals against. Having Eric Comrie back in the stable means Berdin won't be relied on as much in the coming months, but he still has NHL backup potential. Berdin played in 23 games last year, with 25 games being the maximum allowed before he couldn't be considered a rookie, so Berdin just made this list.

Jason Robertson, LW, 20 (Texas)
Simply put, the Stars are not a good team this year. With an 11-14-3 record through 28 games, the Stars sit last in the Central Division, well out of reach of a playoff spot. Robertson, however, has been a bright spot with a team-leading 11 goals and 21 points through 28 games. While his numbers aren't enough to blow anyone away, he's still managing to do a lot with a little in Texas and he's coming off of winning the CHL's top scorer award last year with 117 points between Niagara and Kingston. Robertson is one of Dallas' top prospects, and he's living up to the hype right now.

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