2024 IIHF World Junior Championship

Macklin Celebrini Leads 2024 NHL Draft Prospects To Watch At World Juniors

Macklin Celebrini Leads 2024 NHL Draft Prospects To Watch At World Juniors

Macklin Celebrini, Zeev Buium and Konsta Helenius are among several projected first-round picks for 2024 expected to play in the WJC.

Dec 22, 2023 by Chris Peters
Macklin Celebrini Leads 2024 NHL Draft Prospects To Watch At World Juniors

The 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship is exciting on its own, but for 2024 NHL Draft watchers, it will offer an intriguing glimpse at some of the top prospects eligible to be selected in June.

The WJC always turns into a referendum on top prospects as it is often the most visibility they’ll get before an NHL audience at its point of greatest interest in junior hockey. There is an element of the World Juniors that does provide a valuable proving ground for the top prospects that have their eyes on being top picks.

This year’s tournament will be no different as the projected No. 1 prospect, Macklin Celebrini, is set for a prominent role with Team Canada. But he’s not the only 2024 NHL Draft eligible that will be worth watching closely at the event. 

So let’s take a look at some of the 2024 NHL Draft prospects that are of the biggest interest in this year’s tournament.

1. Macklin Celebrini, C, Canada

As the season has progressed, Celebrini has only further cemented himself as the No. 1 prospect in this draft and I don’t think it’s particularly close at this point. With 25 points at Boston University through his first 15 games, he is just one point behind Adam Fantilli’s 15-game pace from his Hobey Baker season last year.

Unlike Fantilli who ended up down Canada's lineup, however, Celebrini appears poised to be one of the central offensive players for Canada at the World Juniors. Currently slotted as the No. 2 center on the team behind Matt Poitras, who has spent all season in the NHL, Celebrini is going to be looked to in a role more similar to that of the record-setting Connor Bedard at the last World Juniors.

While I don’t anticipate Celebrini is going to be breaking records, he is absolutely a threat to be one of, if not the most important player on Team Canada’s roster.

It seems weird to write, but I feel like he’s actually being under-hyped for this year’s draft because we’re coming off of a year where Connor Bedard mania was enveloping and omnipresent. That’s not the case with Celebrini, but teams that are falling down the NHL standings should be salivating at the prospects of adding a future No. 1 center.

Celebrini will not turn 18 until June, so his age is going to be a factor and the tournament could challenge him in a variety of ways, but I still think he’s going to be critical to Canada’s medal hopes in this tournament.

There was one hiccup, though, as Celebrini was ejected from Canada's second pre-tournament game for a check from behind and may be subject to supplemental discipline. He may have to miss a game in the tournament, but supplemental discipline is pending yet.

Celebrini is a competitor and while a hit like that is uncharacteristic of his game, he is not one to shy away from contact. Perhaps one of his greatest assets is his willingness and motivation to get to the interior and play the game between the faceoff dots. He never sticks to the perimeter and he is always finding ways to break through to the interior. There are many things that are special about his game, but his success rate at breaking through defenses and getting inside is a big separator for him relative to his age peers.

At every step of his career, Celebrini has overdelivered. He is the highest-scoring U17 player in USHL history, he matched Canada’s single-tournament scoring record at the last World Under-18 Championship and he’s on pace to match freshman scoring totals of the last two first-year NCAA players to win the Hobey Baker. Celebrini is a special player and the World Juniors is going to make a lot more people know it. 

2. Konsta Helenius, C/W, Finland

Similar to Celebrini, Helenius is expected to play a big role on Finland’s roster despite his age. Trending towards a potential top-five pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, Helenius has been a top performer throughout the season while playing with Finland’s U20 team as an underager.

He’s also been on pace for a very special season in Finland’s top professional league with Jukurit. Through 28 games, Helenius has 20 points which gives him 0.71 points per game. That is a pace comparable to Patrik Laine’s U18 season in Liiga and makes Helenius one of just eight U18 players to average 0.7 points per game or more. All of the players that have done that in the last 15 years have become NHL regulars.

Helenius is a sturdy 5-foot-11 and has some good skill. He doesn’t shy away from the interior and has a good motor to compete for loose pucks and create his own time and space. 

Finland may struggle to score in this tournament and will lean more heavily on Helenius to be a source of offense for their team. In the team’s first pre-tournament game, he was playing on Finland’s top line with Lenni Hämeenaho, who is expected to be one of Finland’s best players in the tournament.

If that holds, Helenius could be in for a big tournament.

3. Zeev Buium, D, USA

Currently thet top scoring defenseman in college hockey, Buium’s draft season has been going even better than we thought it might at the University of Denver. He has 25 points in 18 games and is currently on a scoring pace of 1.39 points per game, which is the highest pace for a U19 defenseman in NCAA men's hockey since Craig Redmond in 1982-83, surpassing that of Lane Hutson (MTL) last season (1.23) and Brian Leetch (1.27) in 1986-87. 

Buium is a shifty, skilled blue liner who makes creative plays and can extend plays at the offensive blueline. He has high-end puck skills and can find seams well. Moving pucks up ice comes to him naturally, but he’s often most dangerous in the offensive zone. 

The only thing Buium doesn’t have going for him at this point is size. He’s around 6-0 and still a bit slight, which does make it a little harder for him to defend the interior. That said, his team is going to have the puck an awful lot more than they don’t when he is on the ice.

He’s trending towards a top 15 in the draft with his performance thus far after looking like a fringe first-rounder coming into the year.

4. Adam Jiricek, D, Czechia

When Czechia pushed Canada to OT in the gold-medal game last year, it was David Jiricek leading the way as one of the best blueliners in the World Juniors. He’s aged out, but the Czechs won’t be without a Jiricek on the blue line. David's 17-year-old brother Adam, who won’t turn 18 until Day 1 of the NHL Draft, will enter the tournament with big, big expectations.

Currently playing for HC Plzen in Czechia’s top pro league, occasionally playing top-four minutes, Jiricek is young, but poised and plays a mature game. There’s a smoothness to him and he’s shown an ability to defend.

He’s already played in a World Under-18 Championship and Hlinka-Gretzky Cup where he was a standout performer.

A 6-foot-2, right-shot defenseman, Jiricek has good two-way skills and actually was more of an offensive dynamo when he played in the Czech U20 league. He hasn’t been as productive as a pro and has had to learn how to impact the game without scoring, which has been good for his development. 

With good-enough puck moving skills and high-end hockey sense, Jiricek has been projected as a potential top-10 pick. Though he will still be young for this tournament, he might have a bit more time and space here than he does at the pro level to really see what he can do among other elite peers.

5. Michael Brandsegg-Nygård, C, Norway

The level of intrigue surrounding Brandsegg-Nygård is palpable. It’s rare for a Norwegian player to get legitimate top-15 NHL Draft consideration, but there’s a reason so many are so high on this particular player.

Currently playing in the Allsvenskan with Mora IK, Brandsegg-Nygård has shown an ability to battle with the pros. He’s a highly-competitive individual, sturdily built at 6-1, 195. He’s been able to play middle-six minutes as a young 18-year-old in the pros. 

Norway is really up against it at the World Juniors and teams will be able to key in on Brandsegg-Nygård. He’s going to have his hands full, but if he can handle it and perform well in games where Norway is less overmatched, that will help. Marco Kasper (DET) and David Reinbacher (MTL) each showed enough at the WJC with Austria to at suggest they belonged in the top-10 conversation the rest of the way. I think we could see the same from Norway’s biggest star.

6. Emil Hemming, RW, Finland

When Finland named its final roster, it was no surprise to see Hemming on it. He’s a big forward who was a dominant scorer at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and has more than held his own in Liiga this season.

Hemming is 6-foot-2, closing in on 200 pounds. He has eight points in 26 games with TPS including six goals. In Finland’s U20 ranks, no one could contain him as he had nine goals and 15 points in eight games. Meanwhile, he was tied for fourth in scoring at the Hlinka-Gretzky with nine points. 

His feet can be a little heavy at times, but in previous international games with Finland’s national U20 team, he’s shown he can absolutely hang with six points in four appearances this season. 

Hemming may not get the big minutes to make a significant contribution, but he’s still a player to watch closesly in the tournament as he remains a projected first-round pick for this year’s draft.

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