By: Adam Floujeh
The World Juniors are typically watched by three groups of people:
1) Those who tune in and cheer for their home country to take home gold
2) The hockey fans looking for the best storylines, whether that be cheering for the host country, looking for upsets, etc
3) NHL fans who look for their team’s top prospects to dominate the competition and excite fans for the future
The Montreal Canadiens are well represented at this year’s World Juniors with four prospects who fit the bill for any of those three groups.
You have defencemen Lane Hutson and goaltender Jacob Fowler on the heavyweight Team USA, Owen Beck on a Team Canada that while never counted out, aren’t nearly as strong as they were in 2023 and Filip Mesar on Slovakia who seems to be on a revenge tour in the OHL and is certain to keep that momentum going into this tournament.
Let’s dive in.
Lane Hutson, D, USA
It’s a crime this article is the first time all season we’ve focused on Lane Hutson, but the time has finally come.
He’ll be the motor behind the Americans powerplay and there’s a real possibility for him to be amongst the best defencemen in the tournament. He’s also one of Team USA’s returning players from 2023.
Selected 62nd overall in the 2022 NHL draft, Hutson is easily the most exciting defensive prospect the Habs have had since PK Subban. His transition work and playmaking are often discussed but it's his deception and confidence with the puck that makes him special.
A lot was made about his lack of size when he was drafted – it was a constant topic of conversation on Habs Twitter – but when you watch him play, you can’t help but think something exciting is about to happen when he gets the puck.
Canadiens general manager, Kent Hughes, recently made it clear the Habs are keen on having Hutson begin his pro career sooner rather than later. So until then, USA Hockey will be welcoming many Habs fans cheering for them this World Juniors.
Filip Mesar, W, Slovakia
Montreal taking Mesar 26th overall in 2022 is a pick some fans still need convincing on. His skill has never been in question but his ability to do it at an NHL level is still in the air, but this season has seen his development pick up.
Following a good camp with the Canadiens and a pair of games in the American Hockey League, Mesar was sent back down to the OHL, where he’s on pace for 86 points after a strong start (32 points in 20 games) for the Kitchener Rangers. At the World Juniors, he’ll be one of Slovakia’s go-to players. Mesar scored six points in five games for the Slovaks in 2023 and he’s gotten even better since.
While the USA should win Group B, Slovakia aren’t a team to be counted out and Czechia will also prove a good challenge for Mesar to overcome.
Owen Beck, C/W, Canada
Introducing “Mr Emergency Recall.”
It’s been a wild ride for Beck the past few years.
Turning heads and impressing in back-to-back camps with the Canadiens after being drafted 33rd overall in 2022.
Being added to Canada’s 2023 world junior squad midway through the tournament as an emergency recall, winning a gold medal.
He was also an emergency call-up for the Habs and played one game in 2022-23.
He was traded from the Mississauga Steelheads to the Peterborough Petes last season, after which his hometown Petes would go on to win the OHL championship.
A gold medal, an OHL championship and your first NHL game all within a few months of each other is pretty special.
I think there’s a real chance he’s named captain, being Canada’s only returning player from last year’s team. I question whether he’ll be a top-six contributor – it’s more likely he’ll fill the same role as 2023 as a bottom-six role player. It's the style of game that Beck excels in and one they’ll need him to play if the Canadians want to upset Sweden and the USA. Still, he will be a difference-maker and a leader Habs fans will enjoy watching.
Jacob Fowler, G, USA
We wrote about Fowler earlier this season. The 19-year-old has had a stellar start to his NCAA career, putting up a .925 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2.16 in 17 games at Boston College with a record of 13-3-1.
Unfortunately for Fowler, Trey Augustine seems to be the projected starter for Team USA. Still, if we learned anything about Fowler from that Habs draft interview, it’s that he has both the ability and attitude to be ready to play whenever he’s called upon. His time as the Americans’ starter is most likely in 2025, though he could very well still play a game or two this year.
A Final Note
Everyone looks at the Montreal Canadiens’ main roster and sees the holes that need to be filled. Another scoring winger, a power play quarterback, more centre depth, and a goalie of the future to pair up with Sam Montembeault. The four players we’ve looked at today all have the potential to be those solutions and while the World Juniors are just one tournament against other prospects, Habs fans get to sit back, get their hopes up and enjoy.
Intermission Sports will have you covered on all things World Juniors before and during the tournament. Stay tuned on our social media and check out the latest episode of the Intermission Snapshot podcast.