Celebrini to Savoie: 10 players to watch at the world junior hockey championship

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GOTHENBURG, Sweden — The world junior hockey championship gets going Tuesday. While there’s no Connor Bedard this year following his record-breaking performance at the 2023 tournament in Halifax, the annual under-20 showcase still has plenty of talent on offer.

The Canadian Press takes a look at 10 players to watch.

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MACKLIN CELEBRINI (CANADA)

Projected to be the first pick at June’s NHL draft, the 17-year-old forward from Vancouver made the team after dominating the NCAA as a freshman before turning heads at this month’s selection camp. Celebrini has 25 points in 15 games with Boston University this season after being named the USHL’s player of the year in 2022-23 with 46 goals and 40 assists in 50 contests.

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RUTGER MCGROARTY (UNITED STATES)

The American captain looked set to miss out when he was injured crashing into the boards during a game for the University of Michigan last month. Selected with the 14th pick at the 2022 draft by the Winnipeg Jets, McGroarty recovered in time for the tournament after putting up six goals and 18 points in 13 games in the NCAA in 2023-24. The 19-year-old winger from Lincoln, Neb., had a goal and six assists for the U.S. in a bronze-medal showing at the 2023 tournament.

JONATHAN LEKKERIMAKI (SWEDEN)

Chosen one pick after McGroarty by the Vancouver Canucks, the forward will be playing at his third world juniors. Lekkerimaki had a goal and three assists for Sweden last year when the 2024 hosts finished fourth. The 19-year-old has 10 goals and 16 points in 24 games this season playing professionally in his country’s top division with Orebro HK.

DENTON MATEYCHUK (CANADA)

The defenceman had a 23-game point streak in the Western Hockey League this season with the Moose Jaw Warriors snapped just before joining up with his national team. The 19-year-old, selected 12th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2022, has six goals and 35 points in 24 WHL contests this season, and should be relied on heavily by Canada after Anaheim Ducks prospect Tristan Luneau was ruled out with an illness.

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CUTTER GAUTHIER (UNITED STATES)

The fifth pick in 2022 by the Philadelphia Flyers figures to play big minutes for his country in Sweden. Gauthier, who had 10 points in seven games at last year’s world juniors, has 13 goals and 10 assists in 17 contests with Boston College in 2023-24.

FILIP MESAR (SLOVAKIA)

Selected with the 26th pick in 2022 by the Montreal Canadiens, the winger has played three games in the American Hockey League over the last two seasons. Mesar suited up at both the 2021 and 2023 world juniors, registering six points in five games in Halifax. The 19-year-old has 13 goals and 32 points in 20 contests in 2023-24 with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers.

AXEL SANDIN PELLIKKA (SWEDEN)

The 17th pick at the 2023 draft by the Detroit Red Wings has played professionally in Sweden the last two seasons with Skelleftea AIK. The 18-year-old defenceman has nine goals and 13 points in 2023-24. He also had one assist in seven games at the 2023 world juniors at age 17.

LANE HUTSON (UNITED STATES)

A second-round pick by Montreal in 2022, the 19-year-old scored the overtime winner against Canada in a pre-tournament game. Hutson, who had four points at the 2023 world juniors, has eight goals and 12 assists in 15 games as Celebrini’s teammate this season at Boston University.

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DALIBOR DVORSKY (SLOVAKIA)

Chosen by the St. Louis Blues with the 10th overall selection last June, Dvorsky is taking part in his third world juniors. The 18-year-old put up three points in five games in 2023, and has 18 goals and 16 assists with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves this season.

MATTHEW SAVOIE (CANADA)

One of the few players at the tournament with NHL experience, the 19-year-old centre played one game for the Buffalo Sabres this season and six more in the AHL before being returned to junior. The St. Albert, Alta., product, who was selected ninth overall in 2022, has 11 goals and 24 points in 11 games with the WHL’s Wenatchee Wild in 2023-24.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2023.

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