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Intermission Sports 2024 World Juniors Predictions


(Sam Donsig/INTERMISSION SPORTS)


By: Intermission Sports Staff


The World Juniors are one of the most anticipated events of the entire hockey season. Whether it is because it is the only international tournament that feels like a true best-on-best for North Americans, because it takes place over the holidays or because it previews the next generation of NHL stars, the tournament is a massive attraction.


Given that popularity, there was no chance our team of hockey writers at Intermission Sports were not going to get involved. We, like many others, feel that egotistical urge to share our thoughts on how the tournament will go and what it all means for hockey’s present and future. This year’s tournament looks especially fun, given its return to Scandinavia for the first time since 2016 and a stacked Group A, so we just had to get a word in.


In this preview, our Intermission Sports hockey writers will give their predictions for how the tournament will go and point out some players and teams that have their attention before the tournament starts.


Round-robin standings predictions – Group A

Note: The tournament features two groups of five teams. In the round-robin, each team plays each of the others in their group once. Four teams move on to the quarter-finals, while the bottom teams in each group face off in a relegation round.


Adam Floujeh

1. Canada

2. Sweden

3. Finland 

4. Germany

5. Latvia 


First and foremost, Latvia, I love you and how hard you celebrated winning your first medal last May at the World Championships. I really hope you prove me wrong but it's going to be a rough tournament for you. 

 

Canada must feel pretty good to have Matthew Poitras join the team. I could be overestimating his impact but adding a player who’s been playing center at an NHL level since October should be a big help in their fight against Sweden for the top of Group A. 

 

A quick note on Finland. They’re always a dark horse come World Junior time, so it’s a team you should never count out. 


Jakob Kristensen

1. Sweden

2. Finland

3. Canada

4. Germany

5. Latvia

 

Sweden’s home-ice advantage gives them the edge for me in group A. The fact Finland are playing Canada in the first game gives them an advantage in the race for second in my opinion, as they will have far less travel time and Canada sometimes seems to struggle out of the gates. Germany doesn’t look too crazy, but still better than Latvia, who is the clear bottom feeder in this group.


Mitchell Fox

1. Sweden

2. Canada

3. Finland

4. Germany

5. Latvia


I just cannot ignore how good Sweden’s roster looks this year. Eight first-round NHL Draft picks and four second-rounders lead a team with a lot of offensive firepower in various shapes and sizes, as well as a formidable defence core. Though goaltending is a question mark, combining their skill level with the fact they have a chance to finally break through to the gold-medal game on home ice, I’ve got Sweden on top.


Canada has just too much talent not to be a contender in this tournament. Besting Finland will mean beating goaltender Niklas Kokko, but if any team can do it, it is one with the likes of Macklin Celebrini, Matthew Poitras, Matthew Savoie and many more. Canada also has strong role players on both forward and defence to keep games in their control.


The big question is whether Latvia, led by Sandis Vilmanis and Dans Locmelis, can win their game against Germany. The answer, in my mind, is no. Julian Lutz could be a difference-maker up front and could lead a decent group of scorers on Germany, and I just do not know if Latvia has the defence or goaltending to stop them.


Reid Nyenhuis

1. Canada

2. Sweden 

3. Finland

4. Germany

5. Latvia


While Sweden are the obvious favourites with their combination of a plethora of talent and depth and playing on home soil, I still believe Canada has the potential to win what is a very tough Group A. With players like Matthew Savoie and Jordan Dumais who have been lighting up the CHL and NHL-ready talent like Matthew Poitras, this team Canada roster still looks ready to compete for the gold medal. Macklin Celebrini could also be a potential x-factor as he continues his journey toward potentially being drafted 1st overall in the 2024 NHL draft. 


Although I have Sweden below Canada in my prediction, it is impossible to deny the talent that Sweden has this year. Axel Sandin-Pellikka could potentially be the defenseman of the tourney, while a forward core of Ostlund, Lekkerimaki, and Ohgren looks dominant, to say the least.


Finland is always competitive and Germany can usually find themselves a win, which leaves Latvia in fifth. While Latvia’s roster doesn’t look particularly competitive this tournament, team Latvia did just surprise everyone with a third-place finish at the World Championships, so anything is possible. 


 

Round-robin standings predictions – Group B


Adam Floujeh

1. USA 

2. Slovakia 

3. Czechia 

4. Switzerland

5. Norway 


This is the Americans’ group to lose. They have a wicked offence, a fun defence and they don’t have a bad option in net. The real fight is for second place. Czechia might deserve more credit than I’m giving them (hello Adam Jiricek and Jiri Kulich) but it’s impossible to deny Dalibor Dvorsky, Adam Sykora and Filip Mesar for the Slovaks – Oh and hello Adam Gajan. 


Dear Norway, like Latvia, please prove me wrong. I’m just happy you’re here.


Jakob Kristensen

1. USA

2. Slovakia

3. Czechia

4. Switzerland

5. Norway


I agree very much with Adam. USA has an incredibly strong team this year, and is also my favourite to make the finals. Slovakia has done a really good job with their development over the last couple of years, so I am giving them the edge over Czechia. Switzerland pretty much just gets the fourth spot as Norway is the clear bottom-feeder. 


Mitchell Fox

1. USA

2. Slovakia

3. Czechia

4. Switzerland

5. Norway


As much as I am a big fan of Slovakia’s roster and think Czechia has a strong team, I cannot help but look at this United States roster and not expect them to dominate this group. Things can happen, but even just their goaltending (with Trey Augustine and Jacob Fowler) is enough to convince me, and their offence is even more striking.


While Jiri Kulich is probably the best player not on USA in the group and Eduard Sale and Matyas Sapovaliv are high-end players doing serious damage in the OHL, I am putting Czechia behind Slovakia. Adam Gajan has the potential to make a serious mark on the tournament with his goaltending again and Dalibor Dvorsky is seriously good, plus they have Filip Mesar, Samuel Honzek, Adam Sykora and others to score goals. I might actually prefer their depth over Czechia's.


Switzerland’s biggest advantage over the other teams at the bottom of the tournament, and especially Norway, might be on defence. Rodwin Dionicio is their only NHL-drafted player but Daniil Ustinkov is a very highly-touted prospect for this year’s draft and they have two other returnees on the blue line in Nick Meile and Simone Terraneo. Norway has mostly players in junior leagues, so I expect Michael Brandsegg-Nygård to stand out the way Marco Rossi did for Austria a couple of years ago.


Reid Nyenhuis

1. USA

2. Czechia

3. Slovakia

4. Switzerland

5. Norway


USA is the obvious favourite in Group B, with an undoubtedly stacked roster. Lane Hutson will lead the way on defence, while the forward core (consisting of NINE first-round NHL draft picks) looks ready to dominate every team in their way. The list of highly-skilled forwards is long: Cutter Gauthier, Will Smith, Ryan Leonard and Frank Nazar, just to name a few. 


Czechia at second might be considered a bit of a reach for some, but with a talent like Jiri Kulich on your team, you are destined for success. Kulich had 9 points in 7 games with Czechia at the tournament last year and has vastly improved as a player since then. A one-two punch of Kulich and Sale looks to be very competitive this year. Their defence looks fairly solid as well, likely led by Ottawa Senators prospect Tomas Hamara, who is excellent in his own end and has recently improved his offensive output. 


Slovakia is never a team to count out in the tournament, while Switzerland should have the skill necessary to win their game against Norway, leaving Norway in fifth. Norway were just promoted to the top IIHF division, and will likely have a hard time maintaining their spot. 

 

Medal predictions

While our picks in the group stages would inevitably affect how the quarter- and semi-final matchups shake out, we figured we’d skip the whole bracket thing and get to the fun stuff – who is going home with the hardware? It turns out there’s a bit of a trend.


Adam Floujeh

Gold: USA 

Silver: Sweden

Bronze: Canada 


I look at Team USA and can’t help but think of 2021. Many players on that team underperformed in 2020 by failing to even medal and responded by coming back in 2021 and stunning a stacked Canada in the gold-medal game. A bronze medal in 2023 may not seem nearly as disappointing but you can bet those returning American players are hungry for gold – after all “USA hockey is do or die”. Team USA breaking the hearts of the hometown Swedes seems poetic.


It almost feels insulting to have Canada only finish with bronze but someone has to finish third and my gut says it won’t end up being the USA or Sweden. 


Jakob Kristensen

Gold: Sweden

Silver: USA

Bronze: Canada


Even though I like the US most on paper, Sweden's home-ice advantage will come in clutch here. Sweden hasn’t won the World Juniors since 2012 and lost in the finals the last time they hosted in 2015. Obviously, none of the players are the same, but this team will be so motivated to win the country's first championship in over a decade on home ice, they’ll claw their way there. 


Even though I have Finland beating Canada in the round-robin, they tend to heat up during the tournament, and I therefore have them taking home the Bronze.  


Mitchell Fox

Gold: Sweden

Silver: USA

Bronze: Canada


I am choosing the hosts to win it all on home ice. Maybe I am just a sucker for a good story, but I am truly a big fan of this Sweden team. They have a lot of players with experience playing in a professional men’s league (the SHL) and a variety of talented NHL Draft picks. Noah Ostlund, Liam Ohgren, Jonathan Lekkerimaki and David Edstrom could all do a lot of damage up front (and all in different ways), while Axel Sandin-Pellikka and Tom Willander lead a defence with a good mix of puck-movers and tough defenders. 


My silver and bronze medal picks ultimately come down to what I think will happen if Canada and the United States meet in the semi-finals. I can’t help but look at this USA lineup and see a team that could take down Canada the same way a team with Matt Boldy, Trevor Zegras and Cole Caufield (among many others) did in 2021. Their offence is that lethal, though I think Sweden can one-up them head-to-head in a gold-medal game.


Reid Nyenhuis

Gold: USA

Silver: Sweden

Bronze: Canada


I really believe the USA is the favourite to win this year, though they will have a tough time against a stacked Sweden team on home ice. Team USA’s forward talent is undeniable, and their defence is led by one of the best prospects outside of the NHL in Lane Hutson. 


I believe a bronze medal finish for Canada would be somewhat expected for this tournament but their opponent is really up in the air for me. I could see both Czechia and Finland competing for bronze this year. 


Players of the tournament

Rather than give our picks for an entire all-star team as the media does at the end of the tournament, we figured we would just give our picks for the major awards for each position, as well as an MVP. There is a lot of room to be wrong here, but we thought we’d give it a shot.


Adam Floujeh

Best Goalkeeper: Adam Gajan, Slovakia 

Best Defender: Lane Hutson, USA

Best Forward: Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Sweden 

Most Valuable Player: Cutter Gauthier, USA 


Listen, this is hockey. Goalies can ruin any bracket and any fantasy matchup, and Gajan proved he was capable of doing that last year. He also has a 10/10 first name.


To continue my USA heartbreaker narrative, I’m picking Cutter Gauthier to lead the Americans through Group B and play spoiler against Sweden in the gold medal game. Lekkerimaki as best forward is more of a consolation prize to Sweden but oh boy do the Vancouver Canucks have a player there. 

 

Habs fans cry themselves to sleep every night wishing the NCAA season was over and Lane Hutson was wearing a Habs jersey. Every highlight I see of him makes my heart grow three sizes, and this World Juniors could be the tournament where he forces everyone to take notice of how good he really is. Go get ‘em Short King.


Jakob Kristensen

Best Goalkeeper: Noa Vali, Finland

Best Defender: Axel Sandin-Pellikka, Sweden

Best Forward: Jimmy Snuggerud, USA

Most Valuable Player: Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Sweden.

 

My goalie pick is a risky one, as the Finnish goalie situation is pretty much a toss-up and Vali might not even play. That being said, Vali has come in clutch for TPS in the Finnish league after their two main goalies went down with injuries, and he recently told the league’s website he enjoys playing in front of large crowds. If he ends up taking Finland's starting job ahead of Niklas Kokko and Eemil Vinni, he would be my candidate. Especially since Finland always tends to play team-first hockey. 


As far as the defenseman, I will give one stat to back up my pick. Axel Sandin-Pellikka leads all defensemen in the SHL with 9 goals. He is 18. That should be enough. 


Snuggerud came in third in scoring in the tournament last year and is now a year older, giving him pretty good odds to have a major role in this tournament. A dark horse might be Finland's Konsta Helenius who is lighting up the Liiga with 20 points in 28 games playing against men. That being said, he is only 17, and this is his first time at the tournament. 


For the most valuable player I have chosen the best player on the team I believe will win the championship. Lekkerimäki has established himself as a full-time SHL player, which is a tough league to play in. He will be crucial for Sweden’s success. 


Mitchell Fox

Best Goalkeeper: Adam Gajan, Slovakia

Best Defender: Axel Sandin-Pellikka, Sweden

Best Forward: Will Smith, USA

Most Valuable Player: Noah Ostlund, Sweden


I am going bold picking Adam Gajan to win goaltender of the tournament for the second year in a row but I truly believe if he is as good as or better than he was in 2023, Gajan could get Slovakia further than expected, perhaps into a medal game. 


It was a tough choice between Sandin-Pellikka and Tom Willander because I believe both have the potential to play a significant role in Sweden turning their usual round-robin success into medal-round success. Sandin-Pellikka is the clearer offensive talent, so I’ll go with him to generate a lot of offence while proving to be a more well-rounded player than he was last year.


It might be strange for the best forward and MVP to be different, but I think winning gold goes a long way to being MVP and I am picking Sweden to win. While Will Smith is more likely to dominate the scoring leaderboard the way he did at the U-18s last year, Noah Ostlund is Sweden’s captain on home ice and can make a difference with and without the puck, bringing the experience of playing with men in the SHL.


Reid Nyenhuis

Best Goalkeeper: Jacob Fowler, USA

Best Defender: Lane Hutson, USA

Best Forward: Jiri Kulich, Czechia

Most Valuable Player: Will Smith, USA


Although I don’t have Czechia finishing with a medal this tournament, I believe they are capable of surprising a lot of people, just like they did last year. As Czechia’s most important player, I really believe Kulich has the potential to be the best forward in the entire tournament.


Jacob Fowler is a hot take in terms of the best goalkeeper award, but I believe he has the talent to make it happen. The biggest thing holding him back might be his own teammate Trey Augustine, who is also a highly-touted goaltending prospect and may receive more starts depending on performance. Fowler has been dominant in the NCAA this year with Boston College, with a .925 save percentage and a record of 13-3-1. 


This year’s tournament has a few players who could all win the best defenseman award, but I believe Lane Hutson is the current favourite. Playing on a stacked team USA will only aid his performance. Will Smith is another one of USA’s key players, and I believe him to be their best forward and potentially their best player. If the USA ends up winning gold, I think both these player’s chances of winning are much higher. 


We've given our picks and laid it all on the line but there are lots of possibilities for how the tournament and even more conversations to be had. If you want to give your picks or discuss more, feel free to interact with us (@theintermissionsports on IG, @intermissionCA on X) or any of our writers on Twitter/X or Instagram!


Stay tuned for more World Juniors coverage from Intermission Sports all tournament long.




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