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2024 World Junior Championship Review

The annual holiday tournament is always a great opportunity to check out the best under-20 players from around the world. This year was an exciting one for Sharks fans with representation across 4 different nations, all of which are considered the stronger countries in the tournament. The Americans came into the tournament as the favorites and they certainly lived up to the hype coming home with the gold medal. Losing to the Americans and leaving with the Silver medal were the Swedes who had a fantastic tournament in front of their home fans. Finally the Czechs had an amazing comeback to secure bronze over team Finland. Surprisingly Canada was knocked out in the quarterfinals and did not feature in a medal matchup.

As mentioned the Sharks had strong representation in this tournament with 6 players traveling to Gothenburg. For team USA there was recent 4th overall pick Will Smith as well as Eric Pohlkamp (2023, 132nd overall). The Sharks also had a pair of players representing team Sweden. Filip Bystedt (2022, 27th overall) returned to the WJC for a 2nd time while Mattias Havelid (2022, 45th overall) made his first appearance at the WJC. Team Canada had 2022 5th rounder Jake Furlong, and Kasper Halttunen (2023, 36th overall) represented team Finland.

Here are player reviews in order of performance starting with the best.

Will Smith, USA (Rating: 9/10)

I came into this tournament with very high expectations from Will Smith. He has been doing very well statistically with Boston College but at times I have felt his game could be better. Having been a very high pick and having a high level of talent I though Smith could be one of the better players in this tournament. Early on I felt Smith merely continued how he performed with BC. Getting on the scoresheet while leaving a bit to be desired in his overall performance. However, as the tournament progressed, so did Smith’s game. By the time USA was in elimination games Smith was one of the top players for what was clearly the most talented squad in the tournament. This was capped off with big games in both the Semi-final and the Gold Medal matchup, resulting in a goal and 3 assists across those two matches. While he wasn’t awarded player of the game in the Gold Medal match, I really think he was the best player for USA. Smith was creating changes nearly every single shift and got USA going with his stunning shot-pass resulting in the first goal.

Overall, in 7 games Smith tallied 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points, but most importantly he helped USA win a gold medal. Will Smith has another year of eligibility and likely would return for team USA unless he is playing with the Sharks.

Mattias Havelid, Sweden (Rating: 8/10)

Mattias Havelid experienced his first WJC action after an injury prevented him from going to the 2023 tournament. He was very close to being ineligible having a January 1st birthday, and turning 20 during the tournament. Early on in the tournament Havelid was featured on the 2nd defensive pairing, however by the end of the tournament his strong play resulted in some top pairing minutes. Havelid was also featured regularly on the power play. Havelid was able to create offense from the back throughout the tournament with his smooth skating, and offensive awareness. His key attribute though is the lethal shot from the point. Mattias’s shot is accurate and hard often find a way through bodies in front of the net. Coming away with the Silver medal is a nice accomplishment even if team Sweden is likely disappointed with the result. In the gold medal match, Havelid had a nice assist via his typical hard shot from the point being deflected into the net.

Havelid scored 1 goal and 5 assists for a total of 6 points in 7 games. His 6 points tied Axel Sandin-Pellika for the team lead in points among defensemen.

Kasper Halttunen, Finland (Rating: 7.5/10)

Kasper has been tearing up the OHL having scored 20 goals in 28 games with the London Knights. Early on in the WJC Halttunen continued with his standard snipes from left circle. The group stage was great for him scoring 3 goals and 6 points through 4 games included a big game against Sweden where he tallied a goal and 2 assists. However Halttunen failed to register a point in the 3 elimination round games. Halttunen’s game centers around his NHL quality shot and puck skills. He is not typically going end to end but he is often in the faceoff circles awaiting a pass for a quick one-time or using his patience with the puck to draw defenders and create space for his teammates. For his first appearance at the WJC I was pleased with his overall performance and production for Finland. Halttunen should return for team Finland in next years tournament

Jake Furlong, Canada (Rating: 7/10)

Jake Furlong has been a pleasant surprise for Sharks fans since being taken in the 5th round of the 2022 draft. Him making Canada’s squad is a product of his strong play with Halifax of the QMJHL but could also be looked at as somewhat of a surprise considering the higher round picks that are coming through Canada’s pipeline. Furlong was likely brought in for his responsible play in the defensive end as well as his ability to have a nice first pass or skate the puck out himself. He doesn’t have the flashy numbers of some of the other Sharks prospects in this tournament but Furlong provided Canada with solid defensive play on their 2nd pairing and even chipped in with a nice goal against Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. Overall it was a highly disappointing tournament for Canada, but Furlong played well averaging around 20 minutes per game and never finishing with a minus. This was his final year of eligibility but was likely a good experience seeing Furlong compete against the worlds best players in his age range.

In 5 games Furlong scored 1 goal and finished with a +4.

Filip Bystedt, Sweden (Rating: 6/10)

Filip Bystedt was the only Sharks prospect returning to the WJC for a 2nd appearance. Following a fantastic 2022 tournament where Bystedt tallied 4 goals and 10 points in 7 games, I think my expectations were a bit high for him this time around but I was not terribly impressed. Bystedt was on a line with Leo Carlsson last year which definitely help inflate his stats but there were many times last year where he appeared to be the driver of much of the offense for his line and his speed and size really stood out. This year I felt Bystedt was really only noticeable due to his size and the fact that he was taking a lot of faceoffs. Nearly all of his goals and points were tallied in two games against Latvia and Germany. Being one of the older players in the tournament, having his size and playing against pro’s in Sweden, I feel it was reasonable to expect Bystedt to really stand out in this tournament and potentially be a leader for Sweden. Instead teammates such as Stenberg, Ostlund and Lekkerimaki were far more impressive and lead the way for Sweden.

In 7 games Bystedt scored 3 goals and 1 assist for 4 points.

Eric Pohlkamp, USA (Rating: N/A)

Eric Pohlkamp was a surprise addition to the USA squad but to be fair he has had a good freshman season for Bemidji State. He was mostly filling the role of extra defenseman, as teams are allowed to dress 19 skaters. Pohlkamp would typically only receive minutes in this tournament once USA was up big in games and did not play in either of the final 2 matches. When given some ice time though he looked decent. He was able to score a goal and assist on two others while playing reasonably well in the defensive end. It should be noted that most of these performances were against the weaker teams. Pohlkamp’s most complete game was in a 4 to 3 win over the Czech’s where he skated for 15 minutes and registered an assist. The increased minutes were a result of Seamus Casey being sick. Overall Pohlkamp looked good when playing but didn’t feature in enough minutes to give him a fair grade.

Pohlkamp was rostered for 7 games but only played in 5 registering 1 goal and 2 assists.

2024 Draft Watch: 

There were a few players that I had my eye on for this tournament as they’re eligible for the 2024 draft. It’s generally impressive just for a draft eligible player to make their respective WJC team. Being a younger player in this tournament can be difficult as you’re facing off against some players who already have pro experience. I primarily focused on Macklin Celebrini who is expected to go first overall. Having already seen him play with Boston University I expected a lot from Macklin and he lived up to the hype. He lead a talented Canada roster in scoring with 4 goals and 8 points in 5 games. I’ve said it a bunch of times already but if the Sharks can come away from the 2024 draft with Macklin Celebrini, that will be a gamechanger for the franchise. He has so much talent and is relentless on the puck. Unless the Sharks are using extreme patience with their prospects, I would expect him in the NHL next season.

After him I was also paying close attention to Konsta Helenius who is currently projected to be a top 10 pick. Helenius exhibited strong puck skills for Finland and looked really confident with the puck on his stick. He wasn’t able to score much but he was noticeable in most games. If the Sharks either play their way out of the top few picks or experience bad lottery luck, Helenius wouldn’t be a bad pick in the 3-6 range of the upcoming draft.

Next up was defenseman Zeev Buium. Unlike Helenius and Celebrini, Zeev Buium was seen wearing the half-shield as he had already turned 18 years old just before this tournament. Buium is having an unreal freshman season with Denver and you could see why in this tournament. The California Native has great puckhandling abilities and always appears to be making the right play in the offensive zone. Despite being undersized (5-10, 165 lbs) he is effective in the defensive zone as well. Quite often you could see Will Smith and Buium making fancy plays in the offensive zone. Buium was projected to be a mid to late first round pick early on in the season but I would be surprised if his college play combined with this tournament vault him into the top 10. Fingers crossed for him being available when the Sharks are using the pick acquired from Pittsburgh in the Karlsson trade.

Lastly there is Michael Brandsegg-Nygard of Norway. He is projected to go in the 10-15 range in the first round of the upcoming draft. While Norway doesn’t typically yield top round talent, Michael looks like a highly talented player with very good skating ability. He plays a complete game and stood out for Norway in the tournament. In 5 games he registered 3 goals and 2 assists.

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