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MCKEEN’S 2024 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP GUIDE – Top Draft Eligibles at the 2024 World Junior Championship

Macklin Celebrini of Canada during the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship game between Finland and Canada on December 26, 2023 in Gothenburg.
Photo: Carl Sandin / BILDBYRÅN

The IIHF World Junior Championship is typically a tournament where 19-year-olds dominate. And yet annually, fans are delighted by standout performances by some of the younger players in the event.

It was just last year that Connor Bedard, the eventual first-overall selection in the 2023 NHL Draft, took over the event. He put up a Canadian and U18-record 23 points and became the youngest player ever to be named MVP, helping Canada win a gold medal.

In this year’s edition of the event, fans will be graced with the play of another future first-overall pick in Canada’s Macklin Celebrini. The centerman is the top-ranked prospect for the 2024 NHL Draft and should prove why in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Along with Celebrini, several other exciting prospects are eligible in 2024 who will be battling for World Juniors supremacy over the holidays. There’s also one prospect eligible for the 2025 NHL Draft that will command attention as well.

Here are some of the top draft-eligible prospects donning their country’s jerseys at the 2024 World Juniors (alphabetical by last name).

Michael Brandsegg-Nygard - Team Norway

Michael Brandsegg-Nygard has the potential to become the first Norwegian drafted in the first round. The power forward will unquestionably be Norway’s top player in their first World Juniors since 2014. He should fit on the top line and will be leaned on heavily for offense. Brandsegg-Nygard plays a physical game but brings high-end skill and a motor that never quits. He plays a very mature game, especially already having spent time in the pros last season and now this season.

Zeev Buium - Team USA

Zeev Buium has been having a historic season in the NCAA this season, en route to potentially the best performance from a U19 defender in history. Based on how camp has been looking, it looks like he may slot into the top four. The probable first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft is a highly intelligent player with excellent edgework and improving physicality. He could be a key piece of the backend for Team USA as they hunt for the gold medal.

Macklin Celebrini - Team Canada

For the second year in a row, Team Canada will be heavily dependent on the projected first-overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. Macklin Celebrini shouldn’t be expected to bring Connor Bedard-level offense, but he could very well be the offensive leader and MVP on this team. Celebrini will bring much-needed speed, strength, and skill to this Canadian roster. He should be a fixture in the top six and will need to have a strong tournament if Canada is to three-peat.

Tomas Galvas - Team Czechia

While draft stock doesn’t tend to move much from events like this (at least it shouldn’t), it will likely put Tomas Galvas on the map for those who don’t know him. Playing in the top men's league in Czechia, he’s carved out a role in the top four for himself - likely where he slots in at the World Juniors. He’s a strong skater, a great distributor, and defends very well. He’s likely a top-100 draft pick in June.

Konsta Helenius - Team Finland

One of the most impressive draft-eligibles this season, Konsta Helenius will look to carry his success in the Liiga to the international stage this year. The potential top-five pick is currently putting together one of the best U18 seasons that the Liiga has ever seen (eighth all-time in points per game). Now, he should be factoring in as Finland’s No. 1 centerman, bringing his excellent two-way presence, high hockey IQ, and competitive nature to the ice.

Emil Hemming - Team Finland

Sticking with another Finnish player (one of four on this list), Emil Hemming has also made the jump to the Liiga this season, looking more and more comfortable as the season rolls on. He always plays at 100%, giving his all, shift in and shift out. He can produce offensively or help out in his own end. A potential first-rounder in the 2024 NHL Draft, Hemming should factor in as a middle-six winger.

Adam Jiricek - Team Czechia

After helping Team Czechia to a silver medal at the 2023 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Adam Jiricek is back on the international stage. It has not been an easy season for him thus far, as he hasn’t really taken the step forward that was hoped of him. We’ve seen it in the past though, where a strong World Juniors performance can turn a season around, so perhaps that's what we’ll see from Jiricek. A potential first-rounder, Jiricek should be a top-four defender with Galvas. He brings physicality and strong vision to the backend.

Leon Muggli - Team Switzerland

Another lesser-known prospect so far, Leon Muggli has spent his season in the top Swiss men’s league. The defender has nine points in 25 games, putting him tied for fifth all-time in the league for a U18 defender, already ahead of a well-known Swiss defender - Roman Josi (eight points in 35 games). He plays an intelligent game at both ends of the ice. He should be a top-four d-man for the Swiss and at this point, looks like a top-50 prospect in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Jesse Pulkkinen - Team Finland

Yet another Finn, Jesse Pulkkinen is the oldest player on this list - an overager eligible for this year’s draft. He was passed over in 2023 but doesn’t look like he’ll be letting that happen again this season. Pulkkinen is a hulking 6-foot-6 defender who has recently made the jump to the Liiga and looks to stay. He could steal a top-four spot in the lineup, and right now looks like the top-overager available in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Daniil Ustinkov - Team Switzerland

Another Swiss defender of note heading into the World Juniors, Daniil Ustinkov matches Muggli in that he plays above his age. He’s also playing in the top Swiss league, albeit with more limited minutes than Muggle. However, Ustinkov looks like he has a higher skill and offensive ceiling, and that should be on full display over the next two weeks. The defenseman looks like another top-64 player and could crack the first round by June.

Veeti Vaisanen - Team Finland

The final 2024-eligible on this list, Veeti Vaisanen has come out of the gate and impressed this season. The Finnish defender has bounced between the U20 SM-sarja and the Liiga but played sheltered minutes with the men’s team. He’s a strong skater who brings a level of creativity to his game and plays very well in his own end. A potential first-rounder, he could carve out a middle-pairing spot for himself.

Luka Radivojevic - Team Slovakia (2025 eligible)

The lone 2025-eligible prospect in the entire event, Luka Radivojevic impressed this summer for Team Slovakia at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, with five assists through four games. He’s an excellent skater with great offensive awareness and does well in his own end. He’s stood out in the J20 Nationell this season, twice getting the call-up to the SHL. The 16-year-old defender would likely take a bottom-pairing role but could move up as the tournament rolls on.