The Montreal Canadiens only had four prospects at the 2024 World Junior Championship, less than its normal presence at the yearly tournament.
In this case, it was a matter of quality over quantity, with prospects such as Lane Hutson and Filip Mesar playing a starring role for their respective countries.
Hutson started slow, at least by his standards.
But as is often the case with the phenomenal defensive prospect, things quickly ramped up.
He was Team USA’s most used player, playing a critical role as his country secured its sixth gold medal. Hutson was named as one of the top players on the roster and played roughly every second shift for the Americans.
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 4, 2024
He didn’t have a dominant tournament from a production standpoint, though his six points were nothing to scoff at. Rather than being forced to drive the play as is often the case at Boston Unversity, Hutson adapted to the situation, playing excellent defence while supporting the offence when the opportunity arose.
Hutson will never be considered a shutdown defenceman, but his play at the 2024 World Juniors was a good reminder that we should not underrate his defensive prowess.
There’s a reason every single coach ends up falling in love with his style of play, and consequently, using him as often as possible when the game is on the line, including during the all-important gold medal game.
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 4, 2024
I’d be remiss if I didn’t show you one of the last plays of the tournament. It didn’t matter in the long run, but Hutson definitely handled himself well after his 6’4″ opponent decided to play the goon card in the dying seconds of the game.
Hutson’s teammates will surely appreciate the effort.
Once the dust had settled, Hutson was named the top defenceman at the tournament by the media.
Lane Hutson is a BULLY! #GoHabsGo
He embarrasses his Swedish counterpart despite playing half the game and being half his size. pic.twitter.com/Gxv5lDDBn5
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 5, 2024
Slovakia’s tournament came to an early end on January 2 when they were eliminated by Finland, but not before Mesar made his mark. He scored a heroic goal in the dying seconds of the third period to push the game to overtime, a continuation of his excellent tournament.
Few players matched his offensive production, as evidenced by the fact that Mesar’s two goals and seven assists in five games meant he was tied for fifth in tournament scoring prior to the conclusion of the gold-medal game on Friday. In addition, all the players ahead of Mesar on the scoring list played more games than the Habs prospect.
Mesar will return to the OHL and serve as a key player for the Kitchener Rangers, the top team in the league. If Mesar and Co. maintain their strong play, Kitchener will quickly become a favourite to win the Memorial Cup.
— Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey) January 4, 2024
Fowler was relegated to the backup role for Team USA, though you’d be hard-pressed to argue Trey Augustine did not deserve to be the starting goaltender. With the exception of a hectic first period against Finland in the semifinal, Augustine was excellent, posting a .940 save percentage heading into the gold-medal game.
Fowler ended up playing three games, including a game in which Augustine was scheduled to start but had to miss due to being ill with the flu. He won all three games, though his .889 save percentage was far from what we’ve come to expect from the Montreal Canadiens prospect.
All things considered, the tournament served as a great experience for the Boston College goaltender and will be something he can reference as he attempts to backstop his NCAA team to a National Championship.
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 29, 2023
Team Canada was far from perfect. You could argue it was one of the weakest teams Canada has sent to the World Junior Championship in the last decade. While most countries focus on sending players overflowing with skill, Canada continues to build its rosters as if it were preparing for an 82-game NHL season.
On that note, Owen Beck’s line, which often featured undrafted forward Owen Allard and Detroit Red Wings prospect Nate Danielson, was one of the few combinations that worked.
As the fourth line, they were used sparingly, but in limited ice time, the trio did a very good job driving play up the ice with strong defensive play, as well as keeping the puck 200 feet away from their goaltender with a very tenacious forecheck.
Beck finished the tournament with one goal in five games while playing his typical stalwart brand of defence, as well as dominating the faceoff circle. As was the case last year when he returned from playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, Beck will be joining a new team upon his return to the OHL due to a trade between the Peterborough Petes and the Saginaw Spirit.
Carson Rehkopf with by far his best game so far at the #WorldJuniors taking full advantage of his opportunity in the top-six today with 2A including this beauty setup on Owen Beck’s goal.
— East Ave Blue (@KRangersReport) December 31, 2023
All Montreal Canadiens prospect statistics via Elite Prospects.