Every year at this time, it's holiday time for most. It is ALSO hockey time! In particular it's World Juniors Championship time (Dec 26 - Jan 5). That means seeing some of the Blackhawks best prospects on display (6 in total, 4 on team USA). You can read my prior article on those players here.
More importantly though, only the best of the best draft eligible prospects make WJC rosters. Here are the 7 that made it this year: Macklin Celebrini, Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, Konsta Helenius, Emil Hemming, Adam Jiricek, Zeev Buium and Veeti Vaisanen.
It's the last name that is likely the least familiar to most, however the Finnish defenseman is climbing draft boards due to his strong first season in Liiga with KooKoo. After being called up for practices a year ago the 17 year old has skated well and made good decisions playing against good competition. He has netted 5 points in 25 games playing a 3rd pairing role mostly. KooKoo has some of the best offensive defenseman talent in Liiga and Vaisanen is likely learning a ton from these veterans. Vaisanen is a 6 foot left shot blue liner with a lot to offer a team in that 20-40 draft range (Blackhawks have 2 first round picks and 3 second round picks).
Macklin Celebrini on the converse angle is the name that everyone knows. He will be the #1 pick, is in the top 10 of NCAA scoring, and has all the intangibles and tools a franchise would want already at this young age. There isn't much more to go on than that, simply put this is a legit #1 overall forward and no GM in the league will over think this one in late June. I expect Celebrini to have a good WJC, just not a Bedard level performance (no one will).
The name on the list that will go after presumptive #1 Celebrini is Michael Brandsegg-Nygard. MBN checks alot of boxes for what you are looking for in a good 2nd line center at the NHL level. He is mature (already 18) and playing against experienced players in the Allsvenskan (9 pts in 33 games). He can play center or right wing right now, but projects as a center in my view. He has good size (6-1, 194lbs) and plays a hard physical two-way game already. Brandsegg-Nygard is a smart player with excellent heads-up vision that has dominated his own aged players when given the chance. I don't think he escapes the top 10, let alone the top 5-7 picks at this point.
Another Finnish player, Konsta Helenius' name has been attached to the top half of the 1st round for over a year now. The forward (center or wing) is producing at an extreme rate on loan to Jukurit (Liiga) with 20 points in 28 matchups. This is a skilled player that watches the defensive movements before making his move (high offensive IQ). This is a good skating prospect with pace and intelligence. Helenius shows an unselfish game as well as he makes the correct passes and can set a screen in the crease for others' shots. Overall there is a lot to like and likely a player selected in that 5-10 range of the first round.
As you can see below, a respected draft website like McKeen has Helenius ranked as high as 4th in the upcoming draft. You can visit them at www.mckeenshockey.com.
Yet another Fin (we should really watch team Finland), Emil Hemming is a big right wing (6-2 200lbs) that could be in play for the Hawks 2nd first round pick as the forward projects to go in the 15-25 range for me. This is a goal scorer that has 6 goals in Liiga as a draft eligible. This is a high volume shoot first ask second player that loves getting to his spots in a hurry. Make no mistake about it, this is a player with alot of goal scoring upside on the right dot although the rest of his game needs refinement at this point.
Next up is right shot defender Adam Jiricek (brother of CBJ player David Jiricek whom went 6th overall in the 2022 draft). Adam has good size like his brother with a frame that is 6-2/6-3 and 180-190lbs depending on where you look. The Czechia blue liner, more than others, will be looking to increase his draft stock. Once thought of as a lock for the top 20 picks, Jiricek at the moment is a fringe 1st round pick in my rankings. A defensive defenseman at this stage mainly because his decision making and vision is in question at times, Jiricek consistently is engaged in physical play and doesn't shy away from contact. I believe he projects as a good reliable 3rd pairing at this stage unless he really jumps off the screen in this WJC.
Lastly let's talk about Zeev Buium. Wow. This is a player that has gone from bubble 1st rounder to maybe a top 10 lock. Celebrini as a draft eligible NCAA Freshman has 25 points. You know else has that exact same distinction? Zeev Buium and as a LD no less. Buium is "thee" guy right now at the University of Denver and even his coach raves about him in press conferences. As a USHL player, Buium was a good developing player with clearly alot of skill traits that will translate into a good NHL offensive defenseman. Now though, it looks like he could run an NHL power play and play a smart gap coverage combined with creative skating angles to help pinch at center ice to thwart rushes. This is an elite defenseman draft and make no mistake; Zeev Buium is in that discussion of the top 5 defenders looking to be drafted in that 5-15 range.
Overall this World Juniors provides a TON of content and players to watch for Chicago Blackhawks fans. The Hawks have 6 players that are in the system already and 7 draft eligible players to take notes on. Thirteen guys in total over the 10 day tournament. Which player do you have your eye on as a Blackhawks' fan?