The group stage is over, and the knock-out stage is set! The stingy Team Slovakia gets a date with Team Finland, who opened the tournament limping but has since found their footing. Then it’s Team Czechia with outstanding goaltending taking on Team Canada, who has run into some troubles of late. With that, let’s get into our 2024 World Juniors predictions for the quarterfinals!
2024 World Juniors Predictions: Quarterfinals Begin!
Slovakia vs. Finland
Let’s start our Quarterfinal 2024 World Junior predictions with Team Slovakia. Slovakia finished the group stage games with the most efficient power play thus far, going 7-for-16 (43.75%) on their chances. Servac Petrovsky has led the way with five goals and four assists for nine points. Not only does he lead the team, but he leads the entire tournament. The five goals placed him tied for second in the tournament. Filip Mesar has also stood out in big ways, generating a lot of his own shots and setting up teammates for shots. Mesar has also stood out transitionally, helping lead the charge with zone exits and entries. On the defensive end, it has been Maxim Strbak who has stood out, scoring six points on his own and being strong in his own end.
In their games, they won three of four games. They opened the tournament with a 6-2 win over Czechia, then shut out Switzerland, winning 3-0, the very next day. After a couple of days of rest, they took on Norway and dominated with an 8-4 win. But in their last game, they took on the powerhouse that is Team USA, and lost in a big way, 10-2. Their opponents, Finland, certainly had a disappointing start, but they have momentum after a shoot-out win over Sweden. Slovakia’s grinding and relentless style needs to be asserted early, to give the Finns problems. Can they do it?
Player To Watch
The player to watch has to be Adam Gajan in net. The Finns struggle with the tight-checking style that Slovakia covets, and Gajan will be a huge deciding factor behind the Slovaks ability to play tough to beat. He has arguably been the tournaments best goalie, and will be instrumental in their run for a possible medal. Getting past the Finns is a major step. But as mentioned, they have the momentum, and that puts even more importance on Gajan to snuff their fire out early.
It’s been tough sledding for the Finns in the this year and making it tough for the 2024 World Juniors predictions. They’re seventh in the tournament in shooting percentage (9.86%), and their special teams are middle-of-the-pack. The Finnish power play ranks sixth (31.25%) and their penalty kill ranks fifth (76.92%). That does not spell success, not in the slightest. On offence, it’s Kasper Halttunen leading the way with six points (three goals and assists). Then there’s the young Konsta Helenius who has led the way in transition, standing out in those areas consistently. On the back end, it’s Jesse Pulkkinen who has stood out in his own end the most amongst his peers.
Those performances have stood out, culminating in two wins and two losses. They opened the tournament with a tough loss against the superior Canadians by a score of 5-2. In their next game, they took on Germany, who they were expected to rout. Instead, they were stunned, losing 4-3. Then they turned it around quickly, with a much-needed 4-0 win over Latvia. To finish their preliminary games, they took on their rivals, Sweden, in a highly anticipated match. They were the first team to score a goal against the Swedes, not just once or twice, but five times, winning 5-4 in the shoot-out.
Player To Watch
The player to watch has to be Konsta Helenius. The 2024 NHL draft eligible has yet to record a single point, yet he has shined in the smaller details of the game. He drives the play, shining as a transitional player, getting the puck from defence to offence with regularity. He also has generated scoring chances, both as a shooter and a passer. His lack of production is not for a lack of trying. Helenius has had opportunities, but seems snake-bitten. While he isn’t the largest factor in whether the Finns win or lose, the youngster is on the verge of breaking the slump. That could come in a big way, leading to more offensive success for the entire team.
Prediction: Slovakia wins 3-2
Czechia vs. Canada
Czechia has been a very solid team in every aspect, except for one. They’re fourth in both power play success (33.33%) and penalty killing (86.67%). But, they have struggled with their play in net. Michael Hrabal has played every game so far, recording a 2.94 goals against average and a .888 save percentage. Meanwhile, their offence has been led by Jiri Kulich (four goals and three assists) and Matyas Melovsky (seven assists), with each having seven points. Eduard Sale (three goals and two assists) has been a key piece as well. On the back end, Tomas Hamara has stood out in the defensive end, while also chipping in with four points (one goal and three assists).
Czechia opened the tournament with a tough loss against their rivals Slovakia, losing 6-2. But against a far weaker opponent, Norway, in their second game, they dominated by a score of 8-1. Then they took on Team USA, with momentum on their side. However, momentum could only take them so far against a dominant team, and they fell just short in the shoot-out, with a final score of 4-3. They finished their tournament against Switzerland, and they took home the win by a score of 4-2.
Player To Watch
Michael Hrabal is the player to watch in this game. He has been a bit disappointing for the Czechs, but they’ve managed to do just enough to get through it. But against a much tougher Canadian squad, full of star power, they need stellar goaltending. Hrabal is capable of playing at a very high level, which is why he was so highly coveted amongst goalies in the 2023 draft. For Czechia to upset Canada in the quarterfinals, they need Hrabal at his best, and then some.
Canada has been a very efficient goal-scoring team, with the second-best shooting percentage as a team in the tournament (16.41%). Additionally, their power play is third-best (41.67%), adding to their goal-scoring. Their biggest question mark coming into the tournament, their goalies, have the second-best save percentage in the tournament (.924). But their biggest downfall is their sixth-ranked penalty kill (75%). What’s worse is the fact they’ve been short-handed 16 times, the fifth-worst mark. Not only are they not successful on the penalty kill, but they’ve lacked discipline. Despite the frustrating last few games for Canada, Macklin Celebrini has stood out with eight points, tied for second in the tournament.
They opened the tournament with a 5-2 win over Finland, then blew out Latvia in their second game, 10-0. But in their first big test, they got shut out by Sweden, 2-0. Then, in their final game, they had a disappointing start in their game against Germany, including Conor Geekie getting a game misconduct for a high hit. They were able to pull out a 6-3 win, but it was not pretty. They need to figure it out ahead of their contest against Czechia.
Player To Watch
Macklin Celebrini. He has been absolutely electric from the first puck drop. Every game, it feels he has been in the middle of everything. He has stood out transitionally, being one of the main puck transporters for Canada. Celebrini has also been the leading point contributor, as shown before, and has shown everyone why he is the projected top pick in the upcoming draft. Canada needs to get right, and the 17-year-old will be who they lean on to make magic happen. In order for our Quarterfinal 2024 World Juniors predictions to come to fruition, and if anyone will lead the way for Canada to get through Czechia, it will likely be Celebrini.
Prediction: Canada wins 4-2
Main Photo: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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