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2024 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP: Ten Prospects Who Elevated Their Stock

Gavin Brindley of USA during the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship between USA and Norway on December 26, 2023 in Gothenburg.
Photo: Carl Sandin / BILDBYRÅN

The World Juniors is a chance for NHL fans to watch some of their team's top prospects take center stage in what is arguably the most entertaining hockey tournament of the year. USA came in as favourites and they left champions, going a perfect 7-0. It’s important to note that this short tournament does not define how a prospect will pan out as an NHL player. We’ve seen players look like rockstars at the World Juniors but struggle to make an impact in the NHL and vice versa. There have been players who have had average-poor tournaments but go on to be all-stars in the show (Brayden Point comes to mind). With that all being said though, players at this tournament have the opportunity to showcase their talent and tools. In this article, I mention ten NHL-affiliated prospects who I believe elevated their stock at becoming NHLers based on the skill sets they showed at this year’s World Juniors. This list consists of four first, two second, two third, one fifth, and one sixth-round picks. The St. Louis Blues have two prospects represented.

Gavin Brindley - USA (Columbus Blue Jackets 2023 2nd round, 34th overall)

I’m not sure there was a player at this year’s World Juniors who played with more pace than Brindley. With or without the puck, he’s got outstanding speed and is always keeping his feet moving. Tenacious in his puck pursuit, opposing defenders had nightmares on their puck retrievals when he was on the ice. He’s even willing to play physical even though he’s only 5’9”. He never gives up on pucks and doesn’t ever appear to run out of stamina. He was a highly effective penalty killer for the Americans due to the way he stops and starts so quickly. He scored an eye-popping individual effort goal on the penalty kill in their round-robin game against Slovakia. He showed better finishing ability at this tournament than he did in his draft year. Showcased a lightning-quick release in stride and a swift one-timer. Offensively, Brindley has the tools to be an electric play-creator. He’s a high-end puck handler who combines his elite agility with it to adjust his puck protection to control the puck in tight and open ice. Brindley displays solid awareness and will rarely force a play if the pass is not there to make. While he still needs to physically mature and Columbus shouldn’t be rushing him into the NHL, everything else in his game is NHL-ready and could be a high-energy impact forward for the Jackets for years to come.

Rutger McGroarty - USA (Winnipeg Jets 2022 1st round, 14th overall)

What McGroarty further showcased is that he’s the ultimate competitor and a terrific leader. Rutger was stretchered off the ice back in mid-November and was hospitalized for roughly a week-and-a-half to two weeks. But you wouldn’t have known that when you watched him play at this tournament. He’s not flashy but he does have some quick hands and a solid offensive skillset. He can drive his line with his off-puck competitiveness and be a great complement to a couple of skilled linemates with his above-average finishing touch around the front of the net and in the slot. McGroarty doesn’t take a single shift off. He skates hard and plays with an insane amount of drive to disrupt defenders on retrievals and their breakouts. He’s strong on his stick and has that power forward play style where he can overpower his opponents on the puck. I’ll add another impressive part to his tournament was that he took no minor penalties while maintaining his hard-nosed, aggressive play. Rutger lives for big games and knows how to get his team fired up and will be a fan favourite in Winnipeg. He’s going to have a long NHL career, whether that’s playing in a top-six role with skilled linemates complementing them or being a bottom-six-character player.

Trey Augustine - USA (Detroit Red Wings 2023 2nd round, 41st overall)

Augustine maybe wasn’t the best goaltender of the tournament, but he did outduel Hugo Havelid in the Gold Medal game. In USA’s semi-final matchup against Finland, Augustine had to make numerous high danger saves due to his team's shaky defensive coverage. Finland easily could’ve had more than just two goals in the first period and although his team spotted him with ten goals in their game against Slovakia, he churned out a great performance with 38 saves on 40 shots. What I saw out of Augustine was the technical skills and athleticism an NHL starter needs to have. He’s not a big goalie but he pushes off his edges quickly and has great lateral quickness in the crease. He keeps his arms tight to his body when moving side-to-side and has solid control over the positioning of his hands. The majority of goals that got by him were deflections going through his legs (he will want to improve his stick positioning to cover his fivehole better) and he didn’t give up soft goals (maybe one against Finland). He’s got the poise in his positioning to make calming saves for his team and then the flexibility and athleticism to make timely saves. Another aspect of his play that I like is that he never looks rattled.

Theo Lindstein - Sweden (St. Louis Blues 2023 1st round, 29th overall)

Lindstein didn’t initially make Sweden’s roster until a late injury to one of their defencemen on Christmas Eve earned him the call to represent his country. He started the tournament as the seventh defenceman for Sweden but got better and better with each passing game en route to being named to the tournament All-Star team. Offensively, he led the way in tournament scoring by a defenceman with eight points in seven games. He showed glimpses of what St. Louis scouts saw in him to take him in the first round of last year's NHL draft. He’s a mobile blueliner who handles the puck fluidly in all directions and is willing to activate to add a layer of offence from the backend. He shoots strategically from the point, looking to shoot when there’s a screen or shooting for a tip. Lindstein was very patient moving the puck in transition, making accurate passes into the neutral zone. He also displayed improved defensive instincts and engagement from my previous international tournament viewings of him. He uses his skating to close gaps quickly and times his stick checks efficiently. He helped mask his defence partner getting beaten or caught out of position on zone entries by playing assertively and closing on the puck carrier. I also thought he was stronger in board battles and would use his body more to break up cycles rather than relying on his stick checking.

Noah Ostlund - Sweden (Buffalo Sabres 2022 1st round, 16th overall)

Tournament MVP Lekkerimaki was the main feature point of Sweden’s offence, and he delivered. However, I thought Ostlund was just as dangerous all tournament long as his fellow countryman. Ostlund is a lethal transitional threat with his combination of speed, agility, and high-end puck-handling skills. He’s incredibly hard to strip off the puck through the neutral zone as he’s constantly scanning the ice carrying the puck, knowing when to dispose of the puck, and when to take advantage of the open ice. The elusiveness in his skating is top-notch. He’s able to cut and change directions swiftly or accelerate at defenders and use his quick hands to deke around them in stride. The bigger ice surface definitely benefited Ostlund’s game as he loves to possess the puck and be the play driver for his line, and he was able to do just that. He was a one-man zone entry machine all tournament long for his team. As he’d often do circling around the offensive zone, his scanning habits were on display along with his playmaking vision to find seam passes. He’s great at making cross-body passes. Ostlund is a dangerous setup artist as he’ll swiftly evade a check along the boards and then find an open man either in the slot or on the weak side of the play.

Maveric Lamoureaux - Canada (Arizona Coyotes 2022 1st round, 29th overall)

Lamoureaux was a horse on the backend for Canada. He logged the second-most minutes on Canada (only behind his defence partner Mateychuk) but the brunt of Maveric’s minutes was served to shut down other teams’ top lines and utilized heavily on the penalty kill. I will put myself on record saying I did not like Arizona drafting Lamreaux as high as they did in the 2022 NHL draft. After watching him at these recent World Juniors, I can understand why they did. You would think for a player his size that his skating is a downfall to his game, but it isn’t at all. He’s smooth on his boots skating backwards, pivots without losing balance or momentum, and isn’t a poor puck carrier by any means. His mobility was no issue for the bigger sheet of ice and you often never saw him getting beat wide. Part of that is also due to his insane length that he’s so effective at using to force players to the boards before he rubs them off the puck. He showed solid poise waiting that extra second for his teammates to get into his passing lane before dishing the puck off. He distributed the puck accurately underneath sticks and in small spaces. He’s able to make those tough passes in the defensive zone to help exit the zone. Lamoureaux possesses the defensive skillset to be a top-four shutdown defenceman.

Servac Petrovsky - Slovakia (Minnesota Wild 6th round, 185th overall)

Petrovsky was terrific for Slovakia in their opening game of the tournament against Czechia, finishing with an impressive stat line of five goals and nine points in five games. His production was terrific, but what really impressed me was his mature play. He doesn’t overexert himself in plays or overextend on his shifts. Petrovsky is a positionally sound two-way forward who stays above pucks and anticipates where the play is going to cut it off. In the defensive zone, he provides close puck support in downlow battles and prioritizes protecting the middle of the ice (sometimes can get caught puck-watching too often though). He’s an active penalty killer who cuts off lanes and reloads back in position quickly. He’s not going to get in and finish his checks. Instead, he does a terrific job of using his anticipation at both ends of the ice to pick off passes. He does a good job of retrieving pucks in the corners, turning away from pressure, and making a quick pass. Great puck control and quick hands to make plays along the boards in tight. Petrovsky is not the fastest of skaters, impacting his puck carrying abilities. However, he makes up for it with quick and smart decisions when moving the puck in transition. He’s got the tools to become a solid bottom-six pro who can be used on the penalty kill and sparingly on the powerplay.

Marek Alscher - Czechia (Florida Panthers 2022 3rd round, 93rd overall)

Alscher wasn’t on my radar heading into the tournament. Still, I really liked his overall two-way game and pro tools to become an effective pro someday. The Florida Panthers are looking to emulate the Vegas Golden Knights's defence core with big, rangy, mobile defencemen. Alscher fits that makeup to a tee. At 6’3 and close to 200 pounds, he showcased his size and physical strength advantage in the dirty areas of his own end. He kept his gaps tight man-on-man and even when players tried to pull up on him with a hard stop, he didn’t let them out of his range. Plays physical along the boards as you’d expect. His agility is solid and doesn’t look sluggish or slow coming out of a stop or standstill. The one area of his game I was most impressed with was his decision-making with the puck. He showed great poise handling the puck along the blueline and would on occasion activate down the boards. Alscher is a smooth passer, he keeps pucks flat and doesn’t throw grenades up to his forwards. He ended the tournament held off the scoresheet, but he made a lasting impression on me of a player who has the physical tools and hocket smarts to potentially crack the NHL one day.

Aleksanteri Kaskimaki - Finland (St. Louis Blues 2022 3rd round, 73rd overall)

I thought Kaskimaki was an underrated player for his line. He’s not a dynamic skater but has strong strides to propel himself quickly in straight lines. He can be a heavy forechecker and lay the body on defenders. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and I’m sure Blues fans will love hearing that. Great balance on his skates to fend off players and maintain control of the puck. Impressive slot passer who made plays underneath and through defenders to set up scoring chances for his teammates. Kaskimaki displayed comfort in making passes off his backhand and accuracy with them. He regularly showcased his above-average vision throughout this tournament. He quickly gets his head up when the puck is on his stick in transition or when along the boards in the offensive zone to survey his passing options. In his draft year, he was primarily a shoot-first player but he played mostly as a pass-first winger for his line at this tournament. That being said, Kaskimaki is still smart with his off-puck positioning in the offensive zone. He looks to find soft spots in coverage to get his heavy shot off (as we saw on Finland’s third goal in the Quarterfinals against Slovakia) or goes to the front of the net to battle and make himself available for a tip.

Otto Salin - Finland (Los Angeles Kings 2022 5th round, 148th overall)

Salin battled injuries in his draft year, but it was nice to see him return to form in this tournament. Frankly, it wasn’t even close as to who was the best puck moving defenceman for Finland. Salin cleanly broke the puck out of his zone on almost every single one of his attempts. I loved his instincts to drag the forechecker behind his net before quickly accelerating around and separating himself from them. He possesses the speed to carry pucks out of his zone. Salin accelerates with linear crossovers on his carries. He likes to throw in head fakes and make no-look passes, which gives his breakout passes great deception. Salin completes passes through his opponents’ triangles with relative ease. He’s always moving in the offensive zone, walking the blueline to open up space, and pinching down the boards to keep pucks in. Don’t underestimate him for being a “soft” defender just because he’s 5’11”. While not a heavy hitter, he uses his body to close out attackers along the boards and engages physically. It’s a tall climb for Salin to make the NHL considering he’s an “average” sized defenceman who isn’t incredibly talented offensively. Still, he’s a fantastic puck mover and doesn’t mind getting dirty and play physical.