World Juniors 2024

The 7 prospects with the most to prove at the 2024 World Juniors

If you've got something to prove as a hockey player, then the World Juniors are about as good a stage as any to do it. Almost everyone in the hockey world is watching, the competition is steep, and the stakes incredibly high. It's the height of junior hockey, after all.

String together a couple of good games in your country's colours and that can all but erase any concerns stemming from a slow start in league play. And if you're entering the tournament on a high note, carrying that success over into the medal round can cement your status as a budding star.

This tournament has a way of changing perceptions. How often have we seen a draft-eligible player perform well and then hear their name called much earlier than expected at the NHL Draft?

The World Juniors are important. Not just because of the national bragging rights that come with winning the whole thing but because it can act as a pivotal moment in many players’ careers. 

Below, you will find our list of some of the players whose stock we think would most benefit from a strong performance. 

Nate Danielson, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Detroit Red Wings, 2023 NHL Draft, first round, ninth overall 

Usually, a player's fourth year of junior hockey is when they break out. That hasn't exactly been the case for Nate Danielson yet. He's scored at about the same rate as in his past two WHL seasons, and our scouting reports to this point in the season don't highlight nearly as many improvements to his game as we'd hoped for.

Danielson's makeup is better suited to professional hockey, with his good two-way habits, sturdy 6-foot-2 frame, and quick down-the-wall drives. The World Juniors now offers him a chance to show these talents on a bigger stage. 

As the coaching staff may use him in more of a bottom-six role, we won’t be evaluating Danielson only on his production, but also his ability to handle the opposition's top elements and keep the puck in control of his team.

Jesse Pulkkinen, LD, JYP (Liiga)

2024 NHL Draft

Elite Prospects Dir. of European Scouting Lassi Alanen wrote a great piece on Jesse Pulkkinen a few weeks ago.

The 19-year-old Finnish defencemen, an overager in this 2024 draft class, is in the middle of a breakout season. With his 6-foot-6 frame, he will immediately stand out on the ice to scouts, but it's really his high-end stickhandling skills that give him the best chance of impressing them. His feints and toe-drag moves could surprise a few defenders and help the Finnish team generate scoring chances in the offensive zone.

To cement himself as one of the better defensive prospects in this new draft, Pulkkinen will have to continue showing that he can manage the puck well and defend at a high level.

Tom Willander, RD, Boston University (NCAA)

Vancouver Canucks, 2023 NHL Draft, first round, 11th overall 

Tom Willander is putting together a good first season in the NCAA, playing top-four minutes and scoring at a half a point per game clip for Boston University. It’s an encouraging sign for his future, especially because he doesn’t come from a USHL program like most of his teammates, but from the Swedish J20 league. Those leagues differ massively in terms of style of play. It usually takes time for European prospects to get used to the smaller ice, but Willander’s transition has been relatively smooth, thanks to his high-end mobility. 

Unfortunately, prospects aren’t judged in a vacuum, but based on the rank they were drafted. 

The Canucks picked Willander 11th overall last season, probably thinking that he can become a two-way, top-four, dominant blueliner at the NHL level. So far, Willander hasn’t looked the part in college as a freshman. 

But with a great World Juniors in his home country, he could change the outlook of his season and reassure fans that he was, in fact, one of the very best players available at that spot and that he was on the right development path. 

Adam Jiříček, RD, HC Plzeň (Czechia)

2024 NHL Draft

Coming into the season, we anticipated Adam Jiříček would challenge for a top-five pick in this year's draft and maybe even become its best defensive prospect. Instead, a series of shaky performances has acted as an anchor around his draft stock.

The flashes of high-end skill and sense we saw last year have slowed down his fall. They anchored him in the middle of many outlets’ first rounds, but Jiříček needs to turn his season around to avoid falling further. 

A great performance at the World Juniors could do that. As a young 17-year-old, he isn’t expected to dominate the ice, but as long as he shows his puck-moving talents and handles his minutes well, he will increase his draft stock.

Filip Mešár, RW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Montréal Canadiens, 2022 NHL Draft, first-round, 26th overall 

Filip Mešár is rebounding and showing off his talents in a big way this year after a disappointing 2022-23 OHL rookie season. He sits comfortably in the top 10 of the league in scoring, with 32 points in 20 games. The dynamic rush skills that made him such an exciting prospect to follow ahead of the 2022 draft seem to be back in full force in his game. 

Most skilled 19-year-old junior hockey players tend to find ways to score in the OHL, especially when they're playing next to arguably the OHL’s most lethal finisher, Carson Rehkopf

Mešár won’t have that same level of support at the World Juniors, and that makes it a great proving ground for the Slovak winger. Team Slovakia has enough talent to help Mešár score, but the first-rounder will certainly have to generate a large part of the team’s offence. 

Daniil Ustinkov, LD, ZSC Lions (NL)

2024 NHL Draft

Playing in the Swiss league, Daniil Ustinkov hasn’t benefitted from the same level of exposure as other top defensive prospects in this draft, but some time on one of hockey’s biggest stages could change that. 

After all, two successive great performances at the World Juniors pushed David Reinbacher, his fellow Swiss leaguer, up many draft boards. 

Ustinkov doesn’t have Reinbacher’s size, but with his skating ability, he can evade opponents on the forecheck, carry pucks out of the defensive zone, and shutdown opposing rushes. He can also play a physical game. His talents could help the Swiss team control the play at the tournament. 

Not unlike Jiříček, the competition could prove challenging for him. Born in August of 2006, he will be one of the youngest players at the event. His professional experience should help him stand out. 

Frank Nazar, C/RW,  University of Michigan (NCAA)

Chicago Blackhawks, 2022 NHL Draft, first-round, 13th overall 

Frank Nazar has been playing catch-up over the past few months in Michigan. The injury that kept him out of a large part of his freshman season impeded his adaptation to college hockey and his overall development. But he seems to have finally regained many of his strengths over the last few weeks. 

The World Juniors could act as a springboard for the rest of his season and fast-track his development. 

At the event, he will be reunited with some of his USNTDP teammates with whom he had a lot of chemistry. Nazar should play an important part on Team USA, not just with his scoring, but also with his physical, inside-driven, and two-way play.

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Future Vision: Adam Jiříček's two-way prowess makes him a potential top pick in the 2024 NHL draft
Future Vision: Adam Jiříček's two-way prowess makes him a potential top pick in the 2024 NHL draft
This article is about:
World Juniors 2024 Canada U20 Czechia U20 Finland U20 Slovakia U20 Sweden U20 Switzerland U20 USA U20 Nate Danielson Adam Jiricek Filip Mesar Frank Nazar Jesse Pulkkinen Daniil Ustinkov Tom Willander
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