December 25, 2023

Five draft-eligible players to watch at the 2024 World Juniors

The hockey world has been given the gift of international hockey once again this year. It comes in the form of the 2024 World Juniors.

This is a chance for many members of the 2024 NHL Draft class to truly leave their marks on the minds of scouts everywhere. The current projected top pick made the Canadian roster, and several other top-end prospects looking to make the move into the top-five are also featured. 

Here are five draft eligible players to watch out for at the 2024 World Juniors:

Macklin Celebrini, F, Canada

Unsurprisingly, the phenom and standout amongst the 2024 draft eligibles is Macklin Celebrini. Celebrini has made the jump to the NCAA with Boston University this season as a 17-year-old true freshman. He has played like a seasoned senior, however. It comes as little surprise, especially for those who watched him torch the USHL last season to the tune of 86 points (46 goals, 40 assists) in just 50 games. Now with Boston University, across 15 games, he has produced 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 total points. Just simply dominating play. 

Not only is Celebrini lighting up the NCAA as if he were several years older, but he also handles himself physically against older and stronger competition. Standing at 6-foot and 190 pounds, Celebrini can play that rough and tumble game. Then, he can also out-smart and dazzle the opposition. Celebrini brings a ton of energy, both on the forecheck and on the backcheck. With the puck on his stick, he is absolutely cerebral. Any space given, and he will find it and make you pay. Even without space, he can still get off a lethal shot from anywhere. Celebrini could be an x-factor for the Canadian squad, and a strong performance could be his chance to truly solidify that top spot that already feels like his. 

“If you’re making a list of potential favorites for tournament MVP,  Celebrini has to be on the very shortlist of names as he’s one of the most creative and dynamic players at this year’s tournament. There’s a lot to love about Celebrini’s game. His offensive tools grade out as pro-level across the board with a quick and snappy release on his shot, smooth hands, and advanced problem solving ability in the offensive zone. Celebrini is a dual-threat center who competes hard and should play key minutes and be all over the scoresheet for Canada.” — FCHockey crossover scout Brandon Holmes

Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, F, Norway

Perhaps the most interesting draft-eligible player to watch is Michael Brandsegg-Nygard from Norway. For starters, he looks well on his way to being the highest drafted Norwegian-born hockey player ever eclipsing Marius Holtet, who is currently holding that honor after being selected with the No. 42 pick in the 2002 NHL Draft. At this point in time, Brandsegg-Nygard is a pretty consensus top-20 player in 2024 due to his strong start in the Swedish hockey ranks. In the J20 Nationell, he has scored 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in seven games. That earned him the call-up to the Allsvenskan, where he has produced six points in 22 games. 

The saying ‘jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none’ could not be more accurately applied in this instance. Brandsegg-Nygard plays a game predicated on high intelligence, a strong motor, and power. There is very little that can be pointed out that would be considered a weakness. His defensive game is well beyond his years. Meanwhile his 6-foot-1 and 194-pound frame allows him to physically hold off opponents. He forechecks and backchecks efficiently. He can be incredibly relentless in that area as well. For Norway, a team that has just been promoted to the top division, Brandsegg-Nygard could be the difference between being relegated or remaining at the top level next year. 

“Brandsegg-Nygard is a very allround prospect who doesn’t really have many flaws in his game. I like that he provides high-end skill and scoring threat in combination with physicality and maturity. It makes him difficult to defend for any team. I think you can expect him to be the driving force and lead scorer on a Norwegian team that most likely will be fighting to keep their spot in the tournament for next year.” — FCHockey regional scout Erik Sjolund

Konsta Helenius, F, Finland  

Konsta Helenius, a player that some scouts truly love to watch, is currently considered a consensus top-10 pick amongst the 2024 draft eligibles. There are several reasons for such high praise, but his production this season is amongst some of the bigger reasons behind it. At the top men’s league in Finland, Liiga, Helenius has scored an incredibly impressive 20 points in 28 games, including eight goals. He’s chasing the record for most points by a U18 player in Liiga history of 54 points, set by Teemu Pulkkinen in the 2010-11 season. 

Helenius is one of the most fun players to watch in the 2024 class. For one, he can really fly on the ice, showing elite edges and acceleration to beat defenders with his feet alone. He pairs that high end skating with phenomenal manipulation, often using head fakes and getting defenders to open up one way to then change direction on a dime and leave them in the dust. However, he has more than just speed and stickhandling to his game. As that ability to manipulate defenders suggests, he is an incredibly smart player too. 

He won’t just try to burn defenders going up ice. He’ll instead get a read on the defense, then he’ll slow down the pace of play to make the smart, and often correct, decisions. That ability to play at both an incredibly fast and slower pace, and playing at a high level at both paces, makes him incredibly difficult to defend. He knows what he wants to do. Then, he dictates what the defender is going to do well before he gets a hold of the puck. He flashes with high end one-touch passes often, and can be a simply dynamic playmaker very often. A dangerous player who can win with speed and smarts. 

“I’d say my favorite part about his game is how versatile he is for a guy that has been dominating older age groups throughout the junior ranks. He can beat you in a variety of ways, and is extremely smart on the puck and sees the game well, but can also beat you with a highlight move one-on-one. He has improved both his skating and his shot compared to last year to a decent level. Most of Finland’s hopes in this tournament rise and die with Helenius. Although he’s one of the youngest guys on the team, he’s gonna be relied on to lead the team up front. Anything under a point-per-game performance would probably be a disappointment, but follow his game and IQ away from the puck also.” — FCHockey regional scout Rasmus Tornqvist

Adam Jiricek, D, Czechia 

Adam Jiricek is one defender that has a lot to gain from the 2024 World Juniors. Across the board, it seems as though Sam Dickinson is the top defender in the class. However, Dickinson did not make the cut for Canada because of the deeper, more mature talent pool in Canada. That opens the door for Jiricek to make a statement on a grand stage. Jiricek, with just one point in 19 games in the top Czechia men’s league, isn’t the flashiest player. But he earns his value in other areas. 

Jiricek, the younger brother of David Jiricek, plays a responsible, defense-first style. He shows maturity far beyond his years, and can be a true shut-down guy against the opposition’s best players. That’s due to a combination of excellent rush defending. He’s able to thwart the attack before it even truly begins, as well as exceptional stick work. He’s able to break up passes with consistency, and take away both shooting and passing lanes with high end anticipation.

But his game isn’t all defense, and that’s something that Jiricek could very well show at the biggest stage. Jiricek can move the puck exceptionally well transitionally, and his excellent four-way mobility gives him over-looked quarterbacking abilities. Once he truly unlocks that next level offensive ability, Jiricek could shoot right up to the top of the 2024 draft eligibles list. If he shows out this year at the World Juniors, he very well could contend for more than just the top defence spot, but a position in the top-three. 

“Jiricek is a two-way defenseman who is playing with a lot of confidence, he has a lot of puck touches and makes skilled plays almost every shift. Jiricek is aggresive and very smart on and off the puck being a threat offensively but also breaking up plays defensively early. He has a lot to prove at this tournament as I am not convinced he was able to rise or even hold his stock with his league play.” – FCHockey chief European scout Miroslav Simurka

Zeev Buium, D, Team USA

Zeev Buium, the brother of the Detroit Red Wings prospect Shai Buium, is another defender to watch in the 2024 World Juniors. The younger Buium absolutely deserved the roster spot. Across 18 NCAA games with the University of Denver, he has scored 25 points (five goals, 20 assists). He is also entering the tournament on a 12-game point streak. According to the Denver Pioneers website, that’s the first time in at least 21 years that a freshman defenseman held a point streak for that long.

Last season, the question that plagued Buium was consistency. As evidenced by a 12-game point streak as a freshman on one of the best NCAA teams in the country. He has blown that consistency question out of the park. Call it a grand slam with the way he has played this season.

His skating has been the main constant in the way he attacks the game. He has excellent mobility in all four directions. That strong skating gives him the ability to commit more than the average defender on the offensive end. That’s because he has the ability to get back and recover quickly. But not only that, he displays mostly strong defensive abilities, starting with his gap control and active stick. But not only that, he is constantly engaged. He’s always willing to battle in the dirty areas to win the puck back for his team. Buium will be tasked with a smaller role. But with the improvements he has shown, he could work his way up a stacked lineup as the tournament progresses. If he truly makes a statement, there could be some serious top-10 upside with the NCAA stand-out. That makes the 2024 World Juniors all the more important for Buium.

“When I viewed Buium at the World Junior Summer Showcase, I saw a player lacking confidence in the offensive zone. He had above-average skating that helped him activate in all three zones. However, he got into trouble when handling the puck, as his positive plays in those situations were few and far between. I said an improved offensive game would be the difference between him making the USA team and moving into the first round of the draft. The defenseman proved himself in the first half of the NCAA season with Denver and is on pace to have one of the best freshman and draft-eligible seasons in NCAA history. Buium is rocketing up draft boards, and a successful World Juniors will be the icing on the cake for him to be one of the top prospects in the 2024 Draft.” – FCHockey regional scout Nathaniel Duffett

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