We have reached Boxing Day, and that may solely imply one factor (in hockey circles, anyway): It is time for the IIHF World Junior Championship.
This annual event was reinstated to its rightful post-Christmas scheduling final December following a pair of pandemic-disrupted variations. The well-received return happy gamers and followers alike who’ve reliably turned up annually for a showcase of the game’s brightest younger stars.
Earlier than diving into particulars of the 2024 occasion, let’s have a look again at what occurred in 2023.
Initially set to be hosted in Novosibirsk, Russia, the event was moved to the Canadian cities of Moncton, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia after the Worldwide Olympic Committee referred to as for Russia to be stripped of its worldwide internet hosting rights amid its invasion of Ukraine.
In the long run, it was the brand new host nation defending its title with a 3-2 over win over Czechia to assert a second straight gold medal (and twentieth event gold general). That silver medal earned by Czechia was its first since 2005. Future 2023 No. 1 general draft choose Connor Bedard led the event in scoring with 23 factors and was named MVP.
Who could be the Bedard of this 12 months’s occasion? Glad you requested. As a result of we’re about to interrupt down every little thing you must know earlier than the 2024 event formally opens.
This 12 months’s model takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden, the place all 10 international locations competed in pre-tournament motion final week. Group A is comprised of Canada, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Latvia; they’ll compete in round-robin play Dec. 26-31 in Scandinavium, Gothenburg. Group B — containing Czechia, the USA, Slovakia, Switzerland and Norway — will play in Frolundaborg, Gothenburg for his or her round-robin motion by way of those self same dates.
The highest eight groups will transfer to quarterfinals starting Jan. 2. Semifinals happen Jan. 4, with the bronze medal and gold medal video games to observe Jan. 5.
There you might have it: The World Junior Championship roadmap. Now, what ought to we be being attentive to alongside the way in which? Let’s flesh out what’s to come back — and reply a couple of questions — that might outline this season’s event.
Can Macklin Celebrini cement his place because the No. 1 draft prospect?
Good — or unhealthy — performances at World Juniors will not make or break a participant’s NHL draft prospects.
However hey, it might probably’t damage to face out. And that is precisely what Canada’s Macklin Celebrini will attempt to do.
The 17-year-old ahead is amongst a handful of gamers within the combine to go No. 1 this coming June. A local of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Celebrini dedicated to Boston College for the 2023-24 season, the place he is produced 10 objectives and 25 factors in 15 video games up to now. That is in observe as much as him amassing 46 objectives and 86 factors for the USHL’s Chicago Metal in 2022-23 and a top-tier exhibiting for Canada on the under-18 championship earlier this 12 months (he scored 15 factors in seven video games).
This might be Celebrini’s first World Junior Championship expertise, and he is already created some drama. Celebrini was ejected from Canada’s pre-tournament sport in opposition to Switzerland on Friday for checking ahead Leo Braillard into the boards from behind. That drew Celebrini a five-minute main and sport misconduct for boarding; Braillard additionally left the ice and would not return as Canada went on to win, 6-3.
Harmful hit apart, Celebrini’s general potential might be monitored intently as Canada rolls by way of the event. Whereas he may not be on Bedard’s degree, Celebrini is a dynamic, fast-paced participant in his personal proper, with goal-scoring and playmaking capacity. Celebrini has been capable of shine early on from his second-line perch alongside Fraser Minten and Jordan Dumais, all three of whom scored in Canada’s 8-0 win over a under-25 workforce from Denmark final week.
Given the opposite doable high picks Celebrini might be going in opposition to — together with Cole Eiserman of the USA and Finland’s Aron Kiviharju — the subsequent couple weeks are an ideal alternative for him to start out separating from the pack.
Can the USA strike gold once more?
The US hasn’t landed atop a World Junior podium since 2021.
Is it more likely to get there once more this 12 months? You can say that.
The US’ roster is stacked with 10 first-round picks from latest drafts, together with Cutter Gauthier (fifth general in 2022, by the Flyers), Group USA captain Rutger McGroarty (14th in 2022, Jets) and Sam Rinzel (twenty fifth in 2022, Blackhawks). These are additionally three of the seven returning gamers the USA has on board (in comparison with only one returnee — Owen Beck — for the defending champion Canadians) and there is ample worldwide and home expertise of their ranks.
Gauthier, for instance, is coming off a formidable seven-goal exhibiting on the IIHF’s males’s world championship final spring. And he’ll be supported at this 12 months’s occasion by six of his Boston School teammates, together with ahead Will Smith (who was chosen fourth general by San Jose in 2023 and paced the latest under-18 world championship event with 20 factors).
Add all of it up, from formidable ahead depth to a wise, solidly constructed blue line to a No. 1 goaltender (Trey Augustine, a Purple Wings choose in 2023) projecting to be vastly improved over final 12 months’s disappointing semifinal loss, and the USA seems to be poised for greatness.
Time will inform if that interprets right into a sixth golden finale for the USA, although. And we all know Canada will not be dethroned with out a battle, particularly after the Boston Bruins lately despatched high rookie Matt Poitras to spice up Canada’s roster additional.
Will one other underdog emerge?
It occurs yearly.
There is a workforce we do not essentially see coming that bursts by way of to wreak havoc on all these early prognostications.
The Slovakians did it final 12 months after they topped the U.S. in a pre-tournament sport after which narrowly averted eliminating Canada altogether with a 4-3 additional time loss throughout the quarterfinals. (Who might neglect the stellar, 53-save efficiency by present Blackhawks prospect Adam Gajan in that one?)
If something, that success put each different nation within the discipline on discover that Slovakia might try and play spoiler once more. Ditto for Czechia.
Its highway to a silver end final 12 months — which doubled its all-time medal depend after a bronze medal exhibiting in 2005 — was surprising, and propelled by its unmistakable offensive prowess. Jiri Kulich (the twenty eighth general choose of the Sabres’ in 2022), Adam Jiricek (a high defensive prospect competing for that No.1 general slot in 2024) and Tomas Galvas (additionally draft-eligible in 2024) ought to lead a hungry group of Czech skaters keen to indicate their success in 2023 was no fluke.
The large query right here is who will change Tomas Suchanek in internet? Suchanek was the most effective goalies in final 12 months’s event, and it will be Michael Hrabal (a second-round draft selection by the Coyotes in 2023) seeking to fill his skates this time round.
Is Sweden able to soar?
Ah, sure, the at all times aggressive — and incessantly baffling — host nation.
It is onerous to name the Swedes underdogs. However they do have a hasty behavior of failing to thrive when the spherical robin ends, and knockout rounds start. Sweden has received gold solely twice — in 1981 and 2012 — and its most up-to-date consequence was a 2-1 additional time loss in final 12 months’s quarterfinal matchup in opposition to Czechia. Sweden has appeared in back-to-back bronze medal video games, shedding there final 12 months to the USA.
The same final result this 12 months can be disappointing for the Swedes, significantly on dwelling ice, and so they’ve received the personnel in place to keep away from such a destiny. Frankly, it seems to be like Sweden may very well be one of many high groups to beat.
Granted, there might be no Leo Carlsson for the Swedes this 12 months, because the 2023 No. 2 general choose stays with the Geese rehabbing a sprained MCL. However Sweden does have enviable depth regardless.
Head coach Magnus Havelid has already acknowledged that by splitting up Sweden’s three finest forwards — Liam Öhgren (the nineteenth choose in 2022, by the Wild), Noah Ostlund (sixteenth in 2022, Sabres) and Jonathan Lekkerimäki (fifteenth in 2022, Canucks) — to provide the highest six extra punch. These skaters beforehand dominated with Djurgårdens IF within the Swedish Hockey League, and now Sweden is so saturated with expert gamers internationally it allowed Havelid to maximise their contributions by shifting Öhgren to the second line.
Sweden may also have Axel Sandin Pellikka (seventeenth in 2023, Purple Wings) manning the blue line and Filip Bystedt (twenty seventh in 2022, Sharks) serving to generate offense up entrance, simply two of the opposite high abilities who can drive Sweden again into contending mode proper off the hop.
Assuming, after all, the Swedes are able to take flight.
What’s up with the Norwegians?
There’s at all times one seat left open on the World Juniors Championship desk, to be crammed by whichever worldwide squad impresses in a second-tier event the 12 months prior.
This season, that workforce is Norway. It received all 5 video games whereas showing within the World Juniors Division 1A event in 2023 to earn this spot on the subsequent degree for the primary time since 2014. Norway has now flipped positions with Austria, who have been pushed out of the World Juniors discipline following a relegation loss to Latvia final winter.
Avoiding relegation themselves can be an enormous victory for Norway if it might probably pull it off — and that is a big if. Norway does have one top-level prospect to lean on in ahead Michael Brandsegg-Nygard. The winger is a robust two-way participant who’s excelled with Mora IK of Hockey Allsvenskan — producing six factors in 22 video games this season — and he’ll headline Norway’s group heading into the video games forward.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Brandsegg-Nygard can also be eligible for this season’s draft and carries first-round potential. It could absolutely profit Brandsegg-Nygard — and the Norwegians at giant — if he went on a heater at this event. It isn’t typically skaters from Norway are chosen to NHL squads — defenseman Emil Martinsen Lilleberg was the latest choose, No. 107 general by the Lightning in 2021 — and Mats Zuccarello stays the one energetic Norwegian-born skater at the moment within the league.
May Brandsegg-Nygard be their subsequent massive factor?