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World Junior Championship: 10 Prospects To Watch

Ten players you NEED to keep an eye on in this year’s WJC.

Now that we’ve predicted how the teams will fare let’s look at ten of the most exciting prospects in the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship!

Macklin Celebrini (CAN)

He’s not expected to be on the same level as Connor Bedard, but Macklin Celebrini is in a great position to become the second consecutive player out of Vancouver, B.C., to be taken first overall in the NHL draft. Celebrini isn’t the biggest player, but as Bob McKenzie said in his preliminary rankings, “his skating, puck skills, smarts, competitiveness, playmaking, and goal-scoring are pretty much elite level.” It’ll be interesting to see where Canada’s youngest forward slots in on the depth chart and who they’ll have him playing with, but at the end of the day, expect to see a lot of Macklin Celebrini in this year’s World Junior. In last year’s U18 World Championship, Celebrini led team Canada with 15 points in seven games.  

Denton Mateychuk (CAN)

The 12th overall pick in 2022, defenceman Denton Mateychuk will be one of Canada’s go-to guys on the blueline in this year’s tournament. The left-handed defenseman has been putting up great numbers in the WHL with Moose Jaw for two and a half years, but his 35 points in 24 games this season represent a new step in his career. Tristian Luneau might get the first opportunity on the team’s top powerplay, but with his solid, two-way game, I expect Mateychuk to play big and important minutes for Canada all tournament long. His only concern is his lack of experience playing for his country (just three U18 games), but a player of his calibre should be able to succeed at this level regardless. 

Owen Beck (CAN)

As Canada’s lone returning player, forward Owen Beck will play an important role on this year’s team. He only registered one point in three games last year after a Colton Dach injury opened a spot in the lineup, but any experience is good experience at the World Juniors. Beck may not be the top scorer for this team, but he’s a solid, two-way centreman who is very dependable in the face-off circle. He currently has 30 points in 25 games this season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, so he certainly can also contribute on the scoresheet. His skill alone won’t blow you away; expect Owen Beck to be a key piece for Canada. 

Will Smith (USA)

As the 4th overall pick in last year’s NHL draft, Will Smith is USA’s highest pick on the roster. However, as a 2005-born player, he may not see first-line minutes with so many talented 19-year-olds on the team. The Americans are as deep at forward as they’ve ever been, and if the probable line of Smith, Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perrault can produce in this tournament, I’m not sure if anyone will be able to stop them. The three forwards all play for Boston College in the NCAA and were the top three scorers in last year’s U18 World Championships, so the chemistry they have with each other is something the U.S. will rely on. First line or not, they’re a force to be reckoned with, and it’s Will Smith who has the most offensive upside to make a difference when the USA needs it. 

Cutter Gauthier (USA)

Cutter Gauthier had ten points in seven games in last year’s World Junior Championship, and this time around, he’ll be back for even more. The big forward can slot in at the wing or centre ice, but wherever he plays, he’ll make a difference for the Americans again. As Philadelphia’s fifth overall pick in 2022, Cutter is having a solid second season with Boston College in the NCAA and should be looking to make the jump to the big leagues next year. Not only is he great offensively, but Gauthier is also tough to play against, and if the Americans capture the gold, he could easily be named the tournament’s MVP. 

Lane Hutson (USA)

Undersized defencemen have been taking the hockey world by storm recently, and Lane Hutson might be next up. Hutson is listed at just 5’9 and 150 pounds, but that doesn’t stop him from being extremely effective offensively. After he was taken 62nd overall in 2022 by Montreal, Hutson led Boston University with 48 points in 39 games as an 18-year-old. This year, he sits behind only Macklin Celebrini. To succeed at his size, you almost have to be an extremely talented skater, and Hutson is no exception. Watching him quarterback USA’s first powerplay could be like watching current Vancouver captain Quinn Hughes in the same spot just a few years ago. Hutson also has the experience from last year to lean on; the extra year should make a massive difference for him. 

Konsta Helenius (FIN)

Finland hasn’t produced a top-ten pick since 2019, but there’s a good chance that Konsta Helenius will break the streak in 2024. The 17-year-old forward has 20 points in 28 games in Finland’s top league this year, which puts him on the fifth-best scoring rate by a forward in their draft year in the last 25 years. He also has international experience, and as a 16-year-old in last year’s U18 tournament, Helenius had six points in five games. He’s not a big player but makes up for it with his skill and hockey sense. Helenius is used to playing against fully grown men in Finland, so his size clearly won’t be an issue at this level. The Fins are bringing a younger team to this year’s tournament, and if they succeed, Konsta Helenius will be a big reason why. 

Jonathan Lekkerimaki (SWE)

Vancouver Canucks fans will likely be paying attention to the Swedish team this year, and one of the guys they’ll be focusing on is their first-round pick in 2022, Jonathan Lekkerimaki. As a 19-year-old, Lekkerimaki will be playing in his third World Junior and will be one of Sweden’s go-to guys this year. He’s been up and down since being drafted by the Canucks 18 months ago and hasn’t stood out in this tournament before, but the winger is playing the best hockey of his career right now. In the SHL, Lekkerimaki is tied for first on his team with ten goals in 24 games. He’s scoring at this pace due to his incredible shot, which will surely put him on Sweden’s first powerplay unit. The kid can score from anywhere, and I fully expect to see him pot a few in this year’s tournament. 

Dalibor Dvorsky (SVK)

He’s only eighteen, but Dalibor Dvorsky will already be making his third appearance for Slovakia at the World Junior. Dvorksy was picked tenth overall in last year’s draft by the St. Louis Blues, and when you watch him play, it’s easy to see why. He’s a big center who stands over six feet tall, uses his body well, and has a good shot. Dvorsky still needs to work on his skating to succeed at the next level, but he dominates when playing against players his age. In last year’s U18 tournament, Dvorsky led the Slovakian team with eight goals and five assists in seven games. He also has 34 points in 20 games with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves this season, which puts him third in the league in points per game.  

Jiri Kulich (CZE)

Finally, we’ve got Jiri Kulich from Czechia. Over the last two tournaments, Kulich has collected 17 points in 14 games for his country and has been a big reason why the team has made the semifinals in both years. Kulich scored seven goals in seven games in last year’s silver medal finish. This year’s tournament could be even better for the Czech centreman, as he’s gained a lot of confidence playing against older competition in the AHL this season and last. With the Rochester Americans, Kulich has 16 goals and 22 points in 22 games this year, leading the team.  He’s only played one game with the Sabres in his career so far, but if he continues to make strides in the AHL, it won’t be long before he gets a chance with the big club.


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