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A look back at the Habs’ CMJ hopefuls | Brandsegg-Nygard, a name to remember for the Tricolore
Credit: 231226 Michael Brandsegg-Nygård of Norway during the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship between USA and Norway on December 26, 2023 in Gothenburg. Photo: Carl Sandin / BILDBYRÅN / kod CS / CS0474
Another CMJ is behind us.

There were no magical moments like Connor Bedard’s last year, but Canadiens fans still had plenty of material to analyze, both in the prospect bank and with an eye on the next draft.

Let’s dive in!

Lane Hutson
Did Lane Hutson have a spectacular tournament? Not so much. But he was solid, consistent and intense. As a “backup” to Luke Hughes, the American blue-line leader in 2023, Hutson was the USA’s most-used player, playing on the first wave of both special units.

With 6 assists in 7 games and a +8 record, #20 showed a more restrained game than expected, but he was still a leader for the Americans in every respect, both on defense and offense.

Here’s his biggest game of the tournament against the Czech Republic on December 29:

Of course, on occasion, his size is a disadvantage in close quarters in front of the net, but along the ramps, his relentlessness and talent win him his share of battles.

Hutson is a very determined and highly competitive individual. He will bring an offensive spark and another dimension to the Tricolore’s defensive brigade, but this CMJ has also shown us that he will also be able to reduce the “risk factor” in his game when the situation calls for it.

Jacob Fowler
As expected, Fowler and Augustine shared the work in the preliminary phase. In the end, it was the one who started with a head start, last year’s veteran Trey Augustine, who led the Americans to the gold medal from the elimination games onwards.

Despite a modest .889 save percentage, Fowler, winning in all three of his starts, has little to be ashamed of, and this tournament adds nicely to his resume. He did nothing to affect the high hopes pinned on him in Montreal. We saw him make some solid saves. It’s just a shame he won’t be able to return next year, as he’ll already be 20. Augustine, a few months his junior, will have the chance to return for a third time…

For the time being, Fowler is expected to continue his career at Boston College in 2024-2025, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation. If the Tricolore ever manages to trade Allen or Primeau, and Dobes hasn’t been too much of a hit in Laval, a position could open up for Fowler in the land of the Cosmodome. Fowler is already mentally very mature and has greatly improved his fitness since being drafted. A sharing of tasks between Jakub and Jacob is therefore not impossible in the near future…

Filip Mesar
Slovakia came close to qualifying for the semi-finals, but lost in overtime to Finland. It’s a pity, because Mesar had literally done everything for the Slovaks during the tournament, being his team’s best player.

It was Mesar who led his club into overtime against Finland.

With two goals and nine points in five games (+2), Mesar showed us his talent on several occasions during the competition, whether with his above-average shot and skating stroke, or his passing skills and very good sense of the game.

Of course, the performances of the 19-year-olds at this tournament must always be put into perspective, but at least, as hoped, Mesar ranked among the tournament’s top forwards.

Slaf ‘s good friend is doing very well in junior in Kitchener this year, but the large surfaces seem to really benefit his style of play, as he excels in puck possession. But there’s no rush with the Slovak. Naughty tongues will say that, once again, he failed to eclipse his “eternal rival”, the ineffable Jiri Kulich (chosen just behind him in 2022), scorer of 12 points and probably the tournament’s best forward. But at this stage, we’re just hoping that Mesar does his own thing and continues to develop at his own pace.

I’m repeating myself, but when you think of Mesar, you have to think of intelligent but frail players like the young Lehkonen and Ylönen, who often take a few more years to establish themselves in the NHL.

Owen Beck
Nothing transcendent for Owen Beck at this CMJ, as for the rest of the Canadian team… True to form, the Ontarian ranked among the best of the tournament in the face-off circle. That said, we weren’t expecting Beck to dominate offensively, as his missions were more defensive for Canada, but we were still hoping for better than a single point in five games… But then again, all the forwards except Celebrini disappointed for the Unifolié.

In the OHL, as anticipated, Beck is about to be traded for a second year in a row when the CMJ returns. Saginaw, the host city of the next Memorial Cup, would have him in its sights. It’s going to be another eventful end to the season for the Habs prospect, who helped the Peterborough Petes to the ultimate CHL tournament last spring. We couldn’t hope for anything better for his development than to once again be the point man for a team aiming for top honours.

All in all, the Habs’ four hopefuls lived up to expectations in this competition. Owen Beck’s lacklustre performance should not be a cause for undue concern. No one saw him as Canada’s saviour this year.

Looking ahead to the 2024 draft…

Aside from Macklin Celebrini, who flew through the competition and is sure to be picked first next June, what did the other top 2024 draft prospects in Gothenburg do?

Could any of them be of interest to the Habs, who would normally have to draft between 6th and 10th?

Zeev Buium
We’ll be keeping an eye on young American left-handed defenseman Zeev Buium, who scored 3 goals and 5 points (+11) during the tournament. Wearing #28, he almost looked like Lane Hutson (#20) on the ice. To the eye, they’re about the same size and style, but Buium is slightly bigger than the Habs prospect. I had to pay close attention several times to make sure I didn’t confuse them!

It was the Californian who dealt the final blow to Sweden early in the3rd period of the final game with a lead from the blue line following a face-off.

Like many, I don’t expect the Habs to draft a top-10 defenseman in June, but the dynamic Buium has made many eyes glaze over in recent weeks and his value is on the rise…

Konsta Helenius
One player who impressed me less, however, was Finnish right-handed center/wing Konsta Helenius. Projected everywhere as one of the top 6-7 forwards for the upcoming amateur auction, Helenius was too often discreet during the competition, recording his only goal in the bronze-medal match.

Let’s just say he didn’t win many points in the scouts’ notebooks during this competition.

We’re guessing he has a good feel for the game, and excellent hands – which he was able to show us in the shootout against Slovakia – but we didn’t often feel he was very hungry for the puck. Not very big, not very tall, kind of a cross between Lucas Raymond and Filip Mesar, but less flashy, Helenius wouldn’t be my favorite target if I were a Habs scout and had to decide on a top-10 pick next summer…

Michael Brandsegg-Nygard
Not so long ago, I told you about my enthusiasm for Canadian left-handed center Cayden Lindstrom. Today, I’m going to tell you about Norwegian right-winger Michael Brandsegg-Nygard. He won’t be the most pleasant name for commentators to write and pronounce over the next few years, but he’s my favorite of the 2024 World Youth Championship.

Author of 3 goals and 5 points in 5 games, as well as a spectacular + 1 differential FOR NORWAY (which allowed 31 goals and scored only 12!), Brandsegg-Nygard is a bomb on skates who runs like a train over opposing defenders. And at 6’1, 198 lbs, let’s just say that train looked like it might scare some of them…

The Norwegian looks hungry every time he jumps on the ice. His speed, fire, strength and shooting are obvious as soon as you see him, but he also possesses an excellent sense of play that enables him to intercept several pucks and cause headaches to the enemy all over the rink. He reminds me of a cross between Juraj Slafkovsky and Tim Stützle, but right-handed. A very dynamic young man…

Here are his two (very nice) goals against Slovakia on December 29:

He’s currently playing professionally in Mora in Sweden’s second-best league (HockeyAllsvenskan) and apparently isn’t breaking anything statistically there. But, as we all know, youngsters don’t get much playing time in Sweden’s professional leagues, which are often dominated by players approaching their thirties… He’s having a much better time in Mora’s J20 Nationell subsidiary, with 12 points in 7 games…

Finally, Brandsegg-Nygard is a “late bloomer”, as the saying goes. He’ll already be 19 on October 5, and given his physical and tactical maturity, his entry into the NHL could come very quickly.

If I’m a scout for the Habs and Cayden Lindstrom is no longer available between positions 6 and 10, I’d turn without hesitation to Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, who would be quite an addition to the team’s future top-6. He’s way ahead of Helenius in my eyes, and because of his size and strength, I’d also prefer him to Berkly Catton.

Keep his name in mind.

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