2023-12-26 · 3 min read · IIHF World Juniors/Hockey
Cutter Gauthier and Dalibor Dvorsky

Rena Laverty | Steven Ellis/Daily Fac

The reigning world junior champions are looking to win their third WJC in a row and fourth in the last five. This year's team feels like it is missing the overwhelming amount of star power you'd typically see out of Canada at this tournament. On top of this there is only one player returning from last year's gold medal winning team and that's Owen Beck who wasn't a key component of the win. I mean it makes sense when you look at that lineup from last year. Most of them were all '03 birth years, just the luck of the draw.
Team Canada initially only put 22 guys on the roster but now they have filled the last spot with the Boston Bruins are loaning Matthew Poitras (Bos, 22, 2nd rd) to Team Canada for the World Juniors, he'll easily be the player with the most NHL experience in this tournament. He's spent the entire year with the Bruins so far this year and has put up 5 goals and 13 points in 27 games. He's playing in the best hockey league in the world, and now he gets to play a tournament against kids his own age. There are definitely more talented players in this tournament, but nobody else has that level of experience.
Speaking of Talent Canada will feature Macklin Celebrini and Matthew Wood who were major pieces of last year’s U18 bronze medal team. Wood was drafted in the first round by Nashville last year, Celebrini is expected to be a top contender for first overall in the coming 2024 draft. Macklin is currently in the top 5 in points in the NCAA with 25 points in 15 games playing for BU. He was the USHL Player of the Year last year with the Chicago Steel, while finishing as a top 5 scorer in last year's U18 World Championship. Keep in mind that he's still just 17-years-old and won't turn 18 until June. Lastly, I want to take a moment and highlight mutant Maveric Lamoureux. He's 6'7" without skates, has a sick name and was taken 29th by the Coyotes in last year's draft; his size and strength could give some players fits. Overall while Canada might be lacking the name value and goaltending experience of recent teams, they are still the best bet to take home a medal.
Sweden is this year’s host nation which you have to feel offers a little extra motivation. Sweden has hosted the World Juniors 6 times before this year. They've never won the tournament on home soil but have lost in the gold medal game in 2 of those years. Last year they suffered a tough loss to the Americans in the Bronze medal game. It can often be tougher to assess European prospects as simply put they play in leagues I don't see or understand the same way.
Despite this if Sweden excels in this tournament I fairly positive Axel Sandin Pellikka will be one of the main reasons why. Despite being just 18-years-old, Axel is playing in the top Swedish league, and he has 9 goals and 13 points in 25 games as a defenseman. He fits right into the classic mould of the smart, smooth Swedish Defenceman, right in the vein of Nicklas Lidstrom, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and all the other great Swedes to patrol the blueline. He was named the top defenseman at 2023 U18 Worlds and could definitely be the best defenseman at this tournament.
Sweden has some other notable skaters such as Liam Ohgren (Min, 22 1st rd) who is making his 3rd trip to the World Juniors this year and was named captain for Team Sweden. He was also the captain of the Swedish U18 team in 2022 that won gold at Worlds.
Also, I want to take a moment to mention that the Vancouver Canucks drafted another Elias Pettersson (VAN '22, 3rd rd) who will be on this Swedish team; I find that hilarious. In the end this group won gold at the 2022 U18 Worlds. They lost in the gold medal game in last year's U18 Worlds, narrowly losing the bronze medal game last year. Sweden is deep and talented with plenty of experience, I expect them to make some noise and come out of this with a medal.
In all honesty in my head I separate the WJC countries into three groups: the heavyweights, the wildcards and the other guys. Finland often feels like a wildcard to me despite historically being more of a heavyweight. This is another year where the Finnish team feels fickle to say the least. Perhaps it is best described with a little look at their recent WJC history. The Finns have won 3 out of the last 11 tournaments but have played in the relegation round in 3 out of the last 12 as well, you see what they mean about them being fickle. While I don't think they'll be in jeopardy of relegation this year, it's hard to see this as being a year where they are really contending for gold. This is a team that finished 5th at last year's WJC, and 5th at the 2023 U18 Worlds.
On top of this they Finns will be without one of their best players Joakim Kemell as he has elected to stay in the AHL, which makes Konsta Helinus the most intriguing player on this team. He's 17-years-old and playing in the top league in Finland. He has 8 goals and 12 assists in 28 games so far this year for Jukurit. He's projected to be a top 10 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, and this is the exact type of tournament that takes a guy from going top 10 into the top. When you consider Helinus' talent and status as a focal point for Finland, he has a great opportunity to show out and secure himself as a top draft prospect. Overall, I expect Finland to be a solid team who steals a few games but ultimately fall short of a medal.
In all honesty I don't have much to say about Germany as I see them as one of the other guys in this WJC. Last year they finished in 8th place at the WJC and were relegated at the 2023 U18 Worlds. So, their U20's weren't very good last year, and their U18's were even worse. Easily the biggest goal for Germany this year just needs to beat Latvia and try to avoid relegation.
Latvia is in a similar situation to Germany and like them I don’t have too much to say here. Latvia was able to beat Austria last year to avoid getting relegated for this year's tournament. The primary goal for Latvia this year just needs to beat Germany and try to avoid relegation again. I will say Latvia had a Cinderella run at the World Championship in the summer so maybe they have some of that magic left in their countries hockey program, they're going to need it.
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By: Chase Howard


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