By: Mitchell Fox
The World Juniors are an opportunity for hockey’s next generation of stars to show off their talent. Many players on the best teams have already been drafted into the NHL, so they play their hearts out for their country and to show the teams that drafted them they are worthy. Others are draft-eligible – for the first time or after being passed up on the year before – and want to turn the heads of scouts as well.
As an OHL writer, I am particularly intrigued to see how some of the players I watch on occasion fare under the bright lights against the best of their age group.
There are a lot of OHLers on various rosters this year so there were difficult choices for this list. Rather than just picking the best from each team, I picked the ones I am most interested in watching and seeing make a difference, for their teams and for themselves. Some teams do not have any OHLers but others have several, so I decided to list them all but highlight a maximum of two players on each team.
Here is a list of OHL players I have my eye on at the 2024 World Juniors.
Owen Beck, C/W, Peterborough Petes (Montreal Canadiens, 2nd round, 2022)
Owen Allard, C/W, Soo Greyhounds (Undrafted in 2023)
Oliver Bonk, D, London Knights (Philadelphia Flyers, 1st round, 2023)
Carson Rehkopf, W, Kitchener Rangers (Seattle Kraken, 2nd round, 2023)
For Canada, I am going with the two Owen’s. Owen Beck is a highly-regarded Montreal Canadiens prospect and is the only player on Canada’s roster who played on last year’s gold-medal-winning squad. He is a two-way threat with a wicked curl-and-drag shot when he gets to use it, so I am interested to see how often teams will let him shoot. Lineups released from camp and practices have featured Beck in the bottom six but it feels likely coach Alan Letang will use the deep array of talent he has available to him.
Owen Allard, meanwhile, is the only undrafted skater on Canada’s roster outside of Macklin Celebrini. The Soo Greyhounds forward only played 14 games last season but has bounced back to start 2023-24 with 30 points in 29 games. He will not stand out so much for his skill on this team but, somewhat like Beck, can be an effective two-way forward who does not give his opponents much room, something he showed while battling for a spot in camp. It will be fascinating to see what results his work ethic can produce.
I am going to break my own rules a bit with Canada and mention the other players. Carson Rehkopf is the top scorer in the OHL and is playing lights-out hockey with the stacked Kitchener Rangers, so it is almost a given Canada will count on him to score goals. He was not on the powerplay lines in practice, but he will be there in the near future. As for Bonk, he has the potential to continue to move up the defence pairings with his very cerebral game, so London Knights and Philadephia Flyers fans can enjoy watching him patrol the blue line.
Eduard Sale, RW, Barrie Colts (Seattle Kraken, 1st round, 2023)
Matyas Sapovaliv, C, Saginaw Spirit (Vegas Golden Knights, 2nd round, 2022)
Tomas Hamara, D, Brantford Bulldogs (Ottawa Senators, 3rd round, 2022)
Simon Slavicek, W, Flint Firebirds (Undrafted in 2023)
Jakub Vondras, G, Sudbury Wolves (Carolina Hurricanes, 6th round, 2022)
Adam Zidlicky, W, Mississauga Steelheads (Undrafted in 2023)
Czechia’s depth is a bit of a question mark so their top six forwards are very intriguing to me. Along with Jiri Kulich, Eduard Sale is one of two first-round NHL Draft picks on this Czech team. He is playing in his first OHL season after moving overseas to play for Barrie and is having a formidable but not outrageous season offensively, with 21 points in 25 games. His skill can be sneaky compared to some of the other offensive talents in this tournament but his passing ability is top-notch and he can shoot from just about anywhere. If Sale has a good tournament similar to last year, he could jumpstart himself into even better form for the second half of the OHL season.
Matyas Sapovaliv is one of a few Czech players playing in his third World Juniors this year but stands out to me because he has the potential to show off his tools as a secondary weapon to Kulich. He is a skilled playmaker like Sale and his 36 points in 27 games illustrate how effective he can be offensively, but he is also capable as a two-way center and at the faceoff dot. Sapovaliv is part of a one-two punch with Hunter Haight in Saginaw so I am curious how he will fare in a potentially similar situation with Team Czechia.
As a writer who covers the Steelheads, I am inspired to mention Adam Zidlicky. He was not drafted last year and has had struggles with consistency and poise, but Zidlicky’s tools could be important if he gets a regular role on Team Czechia. He is speedy and a slick stickhandler who could boost the offence on a team with a lot of strong power forwards.
Rasmus Kumpulainen, C/W, Oshawa Generals (Minnesota Wild, 2nd round, 2023)
Arttu Karki, D, Soo Greyhounds (Vegas Golden Knights, 3rd round, 2023)
Kasper Halttunen, W, London Knights (San Jose Sharks, 2nd round, 2023)
There are only three OHLers on Finland, but I think there’s already a better sense out there of who Kasper Halttunen is on this team – he is a likely first-liner who will be counted on to generate offence in Joakim Kemell’s absence. Rasmus Kumpulainen is a lot like Halttunen in being a big-bodied forward and a second-round pick from last year’s NHL Draft but his role with Finland is less obvious. He is Oshawa’s top scorer but on a team with a lot of players who play in a men’s league (the Liiga), he appears set to play on the second or third line. He is a center and a capable defensive player when he gets involved, so the middle-six role might fit him nicely and he could have opportunities to move up and down and between wing and center.
Arttu Karki, meanwhile, is a player who captured my attention when I watched him play against the Steelheads this year. The Vegas Golden Knights third-rounder’s height might seem fit for a defensive defencemen but he has smooth offensive abilities too – he leads the Greyhounds with 16 goals and has 30 points in 30 games. Without Aron Kiviharju, Finland does not have a clear offensive dynamo on the blue line, so I am curious to see if Karki, alongside Otto Salin, can fill that role.
Does not have any OHL players on its roster this year.
Sandis Vilmanis, F, Sarnia Sting (Florida Panthers, 5th round, 2022)
Sandis Vilmanis had two points last year at the tournament, so as one of just two NHL-drafted prospects (the other is Dans Locmelis) this year, he will be counted on if they want to avoid being swept away. Latvia is not expected to do much in this tournament but Vilmanis could have an opportunity to stand up and stand out, much as he does with the Sarnia Sting. He is a powerful winger who can both shoot and pass – he has 10 goals and 18 assists in 30 games this year – and will be counted on as a leader against Germany and if Latvia ends up in the relegation round.
Does not have any OHL players on its roster this year.
Dalibor Dvorsky, C/W, Sudbury Wolves (St. Louis Blues, 1st round, 2023)
Servac Petrovsky, C/RW, Owen Sound Attack (Minnesota Wild, 6th round, 2022)
Jakub Chromiak, D, Kingston Frontenacs (2024 Draft eligible)
Roman Kukumberg, LW, Sarnia Sting (Undrafted in 2023)
Filip Mesar, RW, Kitchener Rangers (Montreal Canadiens, 1st round, 2022)
Martin Misiak, RW, Erie Otters (Chicago Blackhawks, 2nd round, 2023)
As far as choosing two players goes, Slovakia might have been the most difficult team. Four of their OHLers are returning players and they have a draft-eligible in Jakub Chromiak who has improved since being traded to the Kingston Frontenacs, while Filip Mesar has been stellar since joining the Kitchener Rangers (but I’ll let my colleague Adam Floujeh tell you about him).
If any player on Team Slovakia is going to break away from the others, it is Dalibor Dvorsky. The St. Louis Blues picked him 10th overall in 2023 for a reason and he is proving it in the OHL this year. Since moving to North America after a short stint in the SHL, Dvorsky has 34 points in just 20 games with the Sudbury Wolves, one of the top per-game marks in the league alongside teammate Quentin Musty and league-leader Carson Rehkopf. It will be interesting to see how much Slovakia relies on Dvorsky to drive play and whether he can do it as effectively as he has in junior.
Servác Petrovský, on the other hand, might have been a savvy pick for the Minnesota Wild in the sixth round in 2022. The skilled forward had 54 and 55 points respectively in his two OHL seasons before this one, where he currently sits at 28 points in 28 games. He is playing in his third World Juniors – he had three points in each of the last two – so he could be leader and a key scorer for the Slovaks. I am definitely interested to see if he can stand out on a stronger team this year and continue to boost his stock as a prospect.
Does not have any OHL players on its roster this year.
Rodwin Dionicio, D, Saginaw Spirit (Anaheim Ducks, 5th round, 2023)
Rodwin Dionicio is Switzerland's only NHL-drafted prospect this year and their most intriguing player, perhaps other than the highly-touted draft-eligible Daniil Ustinkov. He is 6’2” and a strong, imposing defenceman but he is also an effective puck-mover and has over a point per game in the OHL this year. He was traded from the struggling Windsor Spitfires to the much stronger Saginaw Spirit after 16 games and has six goals in just 10 games. He is no push-over and has seen his physical game pick up since joining the Spirit (which has included a spike in penalty minutes) and will hope to lead Switzerland to be the same.
Switzerland also has former OHLer Alessio Beglieri, who played 38 games with the Mississauga Steelheads last year but returned to his hometown team in Biel-Bienne this season. He is the only returning goaltender for Switzerland, having played in two games last year. He allowed five goals in both games but his 37 saves against the USA probably avoided a worse thrashing. This year, it is uncertain whether Beglieri will be Switzerland’s starter but he could certainly get into games and will hope to keep up a strong start to his season in the J-20 Elite league.
Gavin Hayes, LW, Flint Firebirds (Chicago Blackhawks, 3rd round, 2022)
Carey Terrance, C, Erie Otters (Anaheim Ducks, 2nd round, 2023)
Sam Hillebrandt, G, Barrie Colts (Undrafted 2023)
Gavin Hayes is probably one of the less recognizable names on Team USA due to their super-stacked offence but he is one to keep an eye on for any opposing team hoping to keep pucks out of their net. Hayes has followed up a 41-goal (81-point) season last year with 19 goals (36 points) in 27 games to start the 2023-24 OHL season. The Flint Firebirds’ assistant captain has a smart shot and though he is not as flashy as others on this USA team, he has the potential to catch teams and fans off-guard with his skill. It could be fascinating to see him use that effectively as a likely fourth-liner.
Carey Terrance is not likely to be a play-driver for Team USA the way he is for the Erie Otters but could be one of the more exciting bottom six or depth forwards at the tournament. He is a strong skater who is good at creating space for himself, which could make him a fun player to watch alongside other speedsters like Oliver Moore or goal-scorers like Hayes. After leading a struggling Otters team with 30 goals last year, Terrance is once again their top scorer by a significant margin this year, with 22 goals in just 28 games. If Team USA ever need another dose of high-energy goal-scoring, they could turn to Terrance, but if not, he should get another shot next year.
The unfortunate trend for OHL fans when it comes to Team USA is all three players are depth players who may not get a lot of ice time on a team stacked with NCAA stars. Sam Hillebrandt will likely be the third goalie behind Trey Augustine and Jacob Fowler but is an incredible story, having taken over the Barrie Colts’ net a year after playing primarily in Junior C. Like Hayes and Terrance, he earned his way onto the roster and could still get a chance or two
There are a lot of OHL players in this year’s tournament in a lot of different roles, so it is more than possible some of the players I have not highlighted steal the show. In the end, OHL fans, like anyone watching the tournament, should be able to sit back and enjoy the show as the NHL’s next generation takes centre stage.
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.