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MCKEEN’S 2024 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP GUIDE – Americans are favourites, but the Swedes are hungry

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s a time for holiday cheer, family and friends gathering, and teenagers preparing to don their country’s colours in the hopes of international glory.

It’s time for the World Juniors.

An annual staple on the scouting calendar, the World Juniors provides a glimpse into the future of hockey. Top prospects from across the globe gather to compete with and against their peers with one thing in mind - a gold medal.

Kicking off on Boxing Day (December 26th) as usual, this year’s event takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden for the first time ever after being held in Canada for the last four years.

The reigning champions, Canada comes in once again as a gold-medal contender. They’ll look to win their third gold medal straight and become the first team to do so since Canada won five straight from 2005 to 2009.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 30: Canada's Macklin Celebrini #17 celebrates with Caden Price #4 after scoring a second period goal against Slovakia during Bronze Medal Game action at 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship April 30, 2023 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/IIHF)

While Canada is a contender, they aren’t the favourites as they often are. This is a strong team, but as usual, the goaltending is a question mark heading into the event. Without a clear-cut starter coming in, the crease is very much up for grabs and will need to be strong if the team is going to battle for the top of the podium.

Luckily, they do have some star power that should help them achieve that. The team will lean on a pair of loaned NHLers in Boston Bruins’ Matt Poitras and Anaheim Ducks’ Tristan Luneau. 2024 NHL Draft-eligible Macklin Celebrini will also be one to keep an eye on and should also be a top player in the event.

The favourites this year appear to be the Americans, who have built a dominant team from top to bottom. Top prospects Cutter Gauthier, Jimmy Snuggerud, Rutger McGroarty, and Will Smith will lead the forward corps, with Lane Hutson, Seamus Casey, and Ryan Chesley manning the blue net.

In net, the Americans are arguably the strongest in the event, with Trey Augustine and Jacob Fowler to choose from in net. On paper, the roster is the deepest in the tournament. Anything can happen when skates hit the ice, but this is a team that’s here to win it all.

230105 Liam Öhgren of Sweden infront of goaltender Trey Augustine 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

Don’t sleep on the hosts either though. Sweden is another team that regularly looks to challenge for the podium and this year is no different. They have some of the best forwards in the tournament, headlined by Jonathan Lekkermaki, Liam Ohgren, and Noah Ostlund. On defence, Axel Sandin Pellikka could be a challenger for the top defender in the event.

As always, they should be set in net as well, led by Hugo Havelid. This is one of the best groups we’ve seen in recent years from the Swedes. With the team playing in front of their home crowd, they’ll look for their first gold medal since 2012.

Sweden’s neighbour, the Finns, are coming in without some of the star power that we’ve seen in the past but could make things interesting if they get into a groove. They’ll be headlined by 2024 NHL Draft-eligible Konsta Helenius, who will be relied on heavily if they’re going to have any sort of success.

Last year’s silver medalists, Team Czechia could potentially once again disrupt the flow of things and challenge for some hardware. They’ll be led by returning forward Jiri Kulich, who’s seen some action with the Buffalo Sabres this season. The rest of the team looks ready to compete as well, with players such as Eduard Sale, Matyas Sapovaliv, and Tomas Hamara ready to improve on last year’s results.

In recent years, Slovakia looks to have cemented themselves as part of a new, big six. And they could improve on last year’s result thanks to the return of last year’s Top Goaltender, Adam Gajan. He could repeat that honour this year as well. Forwards Dalibor Dvorsky, Filip Mesar, and Samuel Honzek will be instrumental in a Slovak medal - their first since a bronze in 2015.

The remaining teams will likely be looking to keep themselves from relegation, headlined by newcomers Norway. 2024-eligible Michael Brandsegg-Nygar will be a catalyst for this team and could be enough to save them. You can never seem to underestimate the Swiss as well, but they are lacking some true, game-changing talent this year.

Latvia has become rather pesky over recent years and could be just that again in this edition. They have enough firepower and solid prospects to make their impact felt. That leaves the Germans, who have made their mark in recent years with some elite talent. Julian Lutz brings some name recognition, but it will be an uphill battle for the Germans in this event.

The World Juniors never cease to disappoint, with unpredictability, high-action games, and future talent combining for some holiday magic annually. The 2024 edition is shaping up to be no different.

Editors Note: We are releasing our MCKEEN'S 2024 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP GUIDE tomorrow for subscribers. It is a downloadable PDF magazine with team previews, 10 players to watch with full profiles plus a sleeper pick. Feature articles, predictions plus more. If you wish to learn more about a subscription you can link here.