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MCKEEN’S 2024 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP GUIDE – Team and Player Predictions – Biggest Surprises

The 2024 World Junior Championships are set to kick off on Boxing Day (December 26), with Gothenburg, Sweden hosting. Can Canada accomplish a three peat for the first time in over a decade? Can host Sweden capture their first gold medal in over a decade? Can the betting line favourites, the United States, live up to their high expectations? Members of the McKeen’s team have come together to bring you our predictions for the tournament.

Final Medal Standings Predictions


USA - 5 votes

Sweden - 4 votes

Canada - 2 votes


USA - 5 votes

Sweden - 3 votes

Canada - 2 votes

Slovakia - 1 vote


Canada - 5 votes

Czechia - 3 votes

Sweden - 2 votes

USA - 1 vote

Cutter Gauthier. Photo by Rena Laverty, USA Hockey.

Who Wins Tournament MVP?

Cutter Gauthier -3 votes

Jonathan Lekkerimaki - 2 votes

Also receiving votes (1): Denton Mateychuk, Lane Hutson, Matthew Poitras, Rutger McGroarty, Ryan Leonard, Will Smith

Who Wins Best Forward?

Cutter Gauthier - 2 votes

Jiri Kulich - 2 votes

Jonathan Lekkerimaki - 2 votes

Also receiving votes (1): Rutger McGroarty, Ryan Leonard, Will Smith, Macklin Celebrini, Matthew Poitras

Lane Hutson of USA during the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship bronze medal game between USA and Sweden on January 5, 2023 in Halifax.
Photo: Simon Hastegård / BILDBYRÅN

Who Wins Best Defender?

Axel Sandin Pellikka - 5 votes

Lane Hutson - 3 votes

Denton Mateychuk - 2 votes

Also receiving votes (1): Seamus Casey

Who Wins Best Goaltender?

Trey Augustine - 3 votes

Michael Hrabal - 2 votes

Hugo Havelid - 2 votes

Also receiving votes (1): Matthias Rousseau, Adam Gajan, Jacob Fowler, Niklas Kokko

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 27: Canada's Macklin Celebrini #17 celebrates with teammates during the Canada vs Switzerland Quarterfinal Round action at 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship at St. Jakob Arena on April 27, 2023 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/IIHF)

Which NHL Draft Eligible Prospect Has the Best Tournament?

Macklin Celebrini

“I know this is the obvious answer, given his status as a potential first overall pick, but it's the obvious one for a reason. He's going to be put in a position to earn significant ice time on a strong team, which isn't guaranteed of the other draft eligibles. I see him having a really strong round robin but expecting him to take over games in the medal round at such a young age might be a little too unreasonable.”

“One couldn't be faulted for making an argument that Konsta Helenius might be the guy here based on the fact that Celebrini has a lot more competition for prime offensive minutes on a team that should roll 4 lines more often than just about any participant in Gothenburg. But one look at Group A competition gives me reason to think Finland will have a hard time scoring. Canada, on the other hand, is put together such that opponents should be kept busy in so many ways that Celebrini will be able to take the bull of a 2nd line center role by the horns and run with it. That should include ample PP time as well. Whatever line he ends up pivoting, he'll be working with players who are used to generating offense. It's also a safe bet that Canada's defensemen will be solid with their breakout passes. Celebrini should show up in a scoring capacity and challenge for Canada's lead in production.”

“The obvious choice. Celebrini had a great camp, and his performance has secured him a top-six role on Team Canada. He's a dynamic talent who creates offence, has a ton of skill and plays the game at a high pace. He has the potential to have a great impact on the tournament and help Canada to secure a medal.”

“Macklin Celebrini is dominant on the Powerplay and produces at a goal per game pace solidifying himself at #1st overall.”

“Even with Matt Poitras joining Canada, Celebrini may still be the player with the best chance of having a dominant WJC tournament. He's been absolutely brilliant at BU and I see no reason for him to not continue that brilliance onto this big stage.”

“He's a hyper advanced hockey player for his age in all facets of the forward position, and he already knows how to excel against strong older competition. The Canadian coaches will give him opportunities to play his game and be himself, and he'll excel.”

Zeev Buium

“He’s going to play a pivotal role on the tournament's best roster and really establish himself as one of the best defenders in the 2024 draft class. His ability to control the pace of play from the blue-line is really going to help the Americans throughout the tournament.”

Adam Jiricek

“I think Adam Jiricek steps up and has a big tournament for Czechia. Just a perfect storm of a short tournament where a player who can struggle with consistency gets hot and plays a huge role on a team that isn’t a favourite but could still do some damage.”

Konsta Helenius

“I think Macklin Celebrini is the easy answer here as he's expected to be a catalyst for the Canadians, but Helenius is likely coming in as the 1C and arguably the top player for the Finns. I expect him to lead Team Finland in this event and likely be the offensive leader. Playing against men and excelling this season, Helenius will likely pop against U20 competition. Look for him to drive the Finnish offense, be a tournament leader in assists, and impress with his non-stop motor.”

Michael Brandsegg Nygård

“Tough, but gotta go with my boy Michael Brandsegg Nygård. I think he's going to be in the spotlight for Norway every game, which is something he isn't going to take lightly. I think he's going to rise to the occasion and be "the guy" and really turn some heads this tournament.”

What is the Biggest Surprise of the Tournament?

“This is probably not the answer that Canadians want to hear, but I think Canada ends up being a surprise disappointment. At one point they were the betting line favourite to win (if you are into that sort of thing), which I believe is unfair given the strength of some other nations in the tournament. The team draws both Sweden and Finland in the round robin. A loss to one or both of those nations would set up a quarterfinal matchup with one of Czechia or Slovakia, two teams which might scare me even more than Finland this year. I'm just not confident that this team will be able to score enough against the other top teams (even with the surprise addition of Matt Poitras), in addition to getting the kind of game stealing netminding needed to find success at the WJC's.”

Latvia - they’re going to come into the tournament, make it to the Semi's and keep it close between the big dogs in their division. This is the deepest Latvia roster we’ve ever seen at the WJC and they’re going to be playing spoiler all tournament long.”

“Whereas part of me would like to mention Team Sweden simply because it's not easy to win this tournament at home in a country whose hockey media will be religiously following your every move for 3 straight weeks (and I'm thinking the Swedes will win gold anyhow!), I'm going to tip my hat on Czechia being the big surprise over the next few weeks. The team simply has everything necessary at all five positions to rather safely finish no less than 2nd in Group B play. In addition, the sheer amount of players currently competing - and excelling - in North America has me thinking they'll be able to give both the US and Canada a real run for their money, which was obviously already the case last winter. I've now got them facing Canada in the playoffs at some point. Lastly, my interior hockey energy radar is getting massive blips anytime I hear the name Jiri Kulich, as the AHL's top scorer among U20 players was not only a force last winter with his 7 goals and 9 points, but currently leads the entire AHL in goalscoring. With his determination and a shot like his, I'm thinking we'll be seeing him light the lamp a good 10-12 times in this tournament.”

Team Slovakia - The Slovaks have brought a strong roster to Sweden, featuring eleven drafted players, including three 1st round picks and four second-rounders. They stood out at the last tournament, gave Canada a hard time in the quarterfinals and even had the best goaltender in Adam Gajan. The team is now more experienced (15 returnees) and hungry for success. Slovakia doesn't lack high-end talent (Dvorský, Mešár, Honzek) or top goaltending (Gajan) and I do believe they can medal this year. However, the absence of Juraj Slafkovský and Šimon Nemec raises concerns and the defense seems mediocre.”

Latvia’s Sandis Vilmanis finishes top 15 in tournament scoring. I think Latvia’s top-heavy offense is dangerous enough that they’ll pile up some goals and hopefully make things interesting, even if they don’t challenge much in the Round Robin. Vilmanis is the centerpiece of any offensive creation on the roster.”

Team Norway - The recently promoted Norwegian group will avoid relegation and could even avoid the relegation game altogether. They have some impressive pieces and a potential surprise star of the tournament in Michael Brandsegg-Nygård. We've seen some teams widely considered for relegation surprise before, and I think that Norway could be one of those teams that steals a big, shocking win in this event.”

Norway, for once, doesn’t get relegated. Latvia and Germany are the ones fighting for relegation due to a surprise upset by Norway against an established team, snatching valuable points which end up being the difference.”

Oliver Moore makes teams regret passing on him as he works his way up the USA lineup throughout the tournament and plays a big role in the State's success.”

Hugo Hävelid; It won't exactly be a surprise for people who have paid attention to Hävelid and the hometown crowd in Sweden, but to a wider audience, the undrafted goaltender could come away as the breakout star of the tournament. Highly athletic, Hävelid will benefit from a formidable Swedish blueline as well as a reputation for raising his form as the stakes get higher.”

The Czechs. I predict they will have a strong round robin, put up a great fight in a narrow losing effort in the semifinal against Canada or the United States, and then pull off a big upset of Sweden in the bronze medal game.”

Jordan Dumais - we will witness his offensive prowess during this tournament.”