By the time you read this article, the 2024 Junior World Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden will likely be well underway. Today’s article is a quick introduction to the main teams, players, and player pool themes of this year’s tournament. If you want to seem like you know prospects when you attend your holiday meetings, read on.
What should I know when watching this team?
Canada: Canada’s roster is still loaded with NHL talent, as almost every player on this team has been or will be drafted. The most interesting name on their team by far is Macklin Celebrini, who is the favorite to be the top pick in the 2024 NHL Draft and is expected to be one of Canada’s best players. Canada’s top line is Matt Poitras (BOS), on loan from the NHL and centered by Conor Geekie (ARI) and Matt Savoie (BUF). Their best defensemen should be Denton Mateychuk (CBJ) and Maveric Lamoureux (ARI).
Ranking of the best NHL prospects at the 2024 World Juniors
Czechia: Last year’s returning silver medalist doesn’t have as threatening a team this time around. They return their entire front line of Matyas Sapovaliv (VGK) between Eduard Sale (SEA) and Jiri Kulich (BUF), who have been excellent on the international pitch for years. It decreases considerably after them. Additionally, Sale, a first-round pick by Seattle, has struggled mightily this season in the OHL. Their saving grace could be goalkeeper Michael Hrabal (ARI).
Finland: The Finnish team will be led by draft-eligible Konsta Helenius, who is expected to be its first-line center and a top pick in the 2024 NHL Draft. Joakim Kemell (NSH) wasn’t loaned to them, which hurt their score, but they’re still a pretty deep group, even if they’re missing a ton of top-tier talent. Lenni Hameenaho (NJD), Jani Nyman (SEA), Kasper Halttunen (SJS) and defender Arttu Karki (VGK) are all having great years in their respective leagues and should be the leaders of this team.
Germany: There isn’t much to watch out for in this German team. Second-round pick Julian Lutz (ARI) has some NHL potential.
Latvia: In Locmelis (BOS) and Sandis Vilmanis (FLA) are good return prospects. Probably the most intriguing players on their team are their draft prospects, forward Eriks Mateiko and defenseman Darels Uljanki, both of whom appear to be mid-round picks or higher.
Norway: This is one of the strongest Norwegian U20 teams I have seen. This is also a group that lost 6-2 to Latvia in the pre-tournament, so the expectations for them are more to avoid relegation. Winger Michael Brandsegg-Nygard should be the first Norwegian picked in the first round and he could go high in the first round. Defender Stian Solberg could also be chosen in the first two rounds.
Imagining a 2024 World Juniors better versus better: this is what the teams would look like
Slovakia: Slovakia was very good in last year’s tournament and returns many of their important players, namely forwards Dalibor Dvorsky (STL), Samuel Honzek (CGY), Filip Mesar (MTL), Adam Sykora (NYR) , defender Maxim Strbak (BUF) and, of course, goalkeeper Adam Gajan (CHI). They are everyone’s choice to upset a top team.
Sweden: Sweden is a gold medal contender at home. They bring back key members of the age groups that won gold or silver at the U18 international level. Their roster doesn’t feature a top 10 like the United States, but it’s a deep group even if it lacks a true game-breaker. Forwards Noah Ostlund (BUF), Jonathan Lekkerimaki (VAN), Liam Ohgren (MIN), Filip Bystedt (SJS), David Edstrom (VEG) and defenders Axel Sandin Pellikka (DET) and Tom Willander (VAN), among others, should be notable contributors to this team.
Swiss: This isn’t the hottest Swiss team you’ve ever seen. Defender Rodwin Dioncio (ANA) is talented and should score his points. Defenders Leon Muggli and Daniil Ustinkov could also be among the top three picks in the upcoming draft, although Muggli is expected to play a larger role.
UNITED STATES: The Americans are the tournament favorites. They feature several top-10 picks including Cutter Gauthier (PHI), Will Smith (SJS) and Ryan Leonard (WSH). Lane Hutson (MTL) has also been one of the best players in college hockey over the past 18 months, and Gabe Perreault (NYR) is currently one of the best scorers in the NCAA. They also return several other important players, including wingers Jimmy Snuggerud (STL), Rutger McGroarty (WPG) and guard Trey Augustine (DET).
A watchlist/ranking eligible for the 2024 draft
- Macklin Celebrini, C, Canada
- Konsta Helenius, C, Finland
- Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, RW, Norway
- Adam Jiricek, RHD, Czechia
- Zeev Buium, LHD, United States
- Stian Solberg, LHD, Norway
- Jesse Pulkkinen, LHD, Finland
- Emil Hemming, RW, Finland
- Tomas Galvas, LHD, Czechia
- Daniil Ustinkov, LHD, Switzerland
- Léon Muggli, LHD, Switzerland
- Owen Allard, C, Canada
- Eriks Mateiko, RW, Latvia
- Jamiro Reber, AD, Switzerland
- Emil Vinni, G, Finland
- Samuel St-Hilaire, G, Canada
- Miles Mueller, AG, Switzerland
The first five names are the ones you really need to know, as they are all likely first-round picks in the upcoming draft, with Celebrini as a potential No. 1 pick. The rest of the top five names listed could very well make the top 20.
Games to know
(All times Eastern)
Tuesday December 26 at 6:00 a.m.: Czechia against Slovakia; at 8 a.m.: Canada v. Finland
Wednesday December 27 at 6:00 a.m.: Slovakia vs Switzerland
Thursday December 28 at 11:00 a.m.: Switzerland vs USA
Friday December 29 at 11:00 a.m.: Czechia against United States; at 1:00 p.m.: Canada v. Sweden
Saturday December 30 at 11:00 a.m.: Switzerland vs Norway
Sunday, December 31 at 6:00 a.m.: United States vs. Slovakia; at 8:30 a.m.: Sweden vs. Finland
Tuesday January 2 from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.: Quarter-finals all day
Thursday January 4: Semi-final 1 at 9:00 a.m.; Semi-final 2 at 1:30 p.m.
Friday, January 5: Bronze medal match at 9 a.m.; Gold medal match at 1:30 p.m.
Frequently asked questions
Canada has that as always, right?
Canada is a contender for the gold medal, like every year. They have a talented, talented group of skaters, filled with top NHL draft picks, including Celebrini. However, compared to some recent Team Canada rosters, this group isn’t as loaded. Their best players aren’t as dynamic as last year’s team, for example, and they are severely handicapped by the number of their best players in the NHL. The result is that they are not clear favorites this season.
Canada’s Macklin Celebrini sent off during preseason game at world junior tournament
Is Celebrini as good as that Connor Bedard guy?
Well, no one before as a draft prospect has been to a tournament like Bédard, so it would be unfair to set the bar that high. However, Celebrini is truly exceptional. There are no obvious flaws in his skills and he does everything at a high-end level. He has the chance to be one of the best players in this tournament.
So you’re saying the United States will win?
This USA team is on paper the favorite. However, they are not unstoppable. In particular, if one were to rank the three contenders (Canada, Sweden, United States), the American blue line would rank third among this group. It’s their clearly defined attacking group and the dynamic skills of their entire team that give them a real chance of winning gold. They have good goaltending, but if they don’t win, it will likely be because they haven’t been able to make enough defensive stops and move pucks up the ice with precision.
Is there a team that has earth-shattering potential or could make an unexpected run like Czechia last season?
Finland and Slovakia would be my picks to potentially advance to the medal round. The Finnish team is not clearly the best, but it is a strong group that will compete and has shown well in the pre-tournament, including a 5-1 victory against Slovakia and a 4-1 victory against Czechia.
Slovakia clearly has upset vibes. Dvorsky should shine at the junior level and Gajan showed last year that he has the potential to steal a game. Dvorsky and Gajan did not play against Finland in the pre-tournament.
Why isn’t ____ at the tournament?
Aron Kiviharju has been a highly regarded junior player in the Finnish program for years, but he was injured in late October and will be out until February. He could be a first round pick in the next draft. Joakim Kemell is out of Finland because Nashville did not loan him for what would be his third world junior tournament. Zach Benson would have been in Canada, but he was an important player for Buffalo and was not released by the Sabres.
So who are the legitimate future NHL stars at this tournament that I should know about?
The main names to know are Celebrini in Canada, and Gauthier and Smith in the USA. Helenius on Finland could come into this conversation by the end of the tournament.
Where can I get more information about these players?
You can view our most recent pipeline rankings, our U23 rankings and our 2024 NHL Draft rankings.
(Photo by Connor Geekie and Macklin Celebrini: Johan Nilsson / TT News Agency via AP)
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