WJC Three Stars Day 2: Celebrini puts himself on the map with dominant showing

Canada's Macklin Celebrini (17) scores on Latvia goaltender Linards Feldbergs (29) during second period preliminary round hockey action at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Christinne Musch/ THE CANADIAN PRESS)

What makes the World Junior Hockey Championship a memorable tournament is when the unlikely happens.

Germany’s 4-3 victory over Finland on Day 2 was a perfect example of that.

The Finns owned the head-to-head matchup as they went into the game with a 25-0 record against the Germans. After a thrilling back-and-forth affair, Germany’s win now provides some intrigue in Group A as they sit third with three points while Finland drops to 0-2.

In Group B action, Slovakia looked to build off their impressive win over Czechia and got a great goaltending performance from Adam Gajan to take a 3-0 win over Switzerland. They now sit atop the group and are in a good position to finish in the top two.

Czechia bounced back from their opening loss of the tournament with a dominant showing over Norway.

Canada’s offence was on full display scoring five goals in the third period in a 10-0 thumping of Latvia. It was an important win for the Canadians, who not only improved to 2-0 but also increased their goal-differential to plus-13, which could come into play at some point when determining seeding for the round-robin.

Here’s a look at the top three performances from Day 2:

Third Star: Eduard Sale

After a tough game against Slovakia in the opener, Czechia needed Sale to bounce back and even put the Barrie Colts forward on the second line.

He certainly bounced back in a big way, showing why he was a top offensive player coming into this tournament for Czechia. The 18-year-old notched a hat trick including a nifty spin-o-rama that showed off some great work ethic as he stripped the Norwegian defender to get in alone in front.

The Seattle Kraken prospect was a standout for Czechia in last year’s World Juniors, putting up six points in seven games. One area of concern when he was heading into the 2023 NHL Draft was whether he could get over his inconsistent play.

Where Czechia needs to see more from Sale is when he isn’t able to be a top-line contributor, he has to show he can be a factor in other areas.

Second Star: Jiri Kulich 

The Buffalo Sabres should be happy to see another top prospect putting on a great display at the World Juniors.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that Kulich is once again leading the charge for his country. The 19-year-old accounted for six shot attempts in the opening period and scored on two of them before finishing off the second hat trick of the day for Czechia.

Like most of his teammates, Kulich didn’t have his best effort in the tournament opener but more than made up for it against Norway. It shouldn’t be a surprise considering Kulich scored seven goals and nine points in last year’s tournament.

The 28th overall pick from the 2022 NHL Draft made the move to North America last year and hasn’t had any issue adjusting, scoring 40 goals and 68 points in 85 career AHL games the last two seasons.

Don’t be surprised to see his name at the top of the scoring list as the tournament goes along.

First Star: Macklin Celebrini

The projected first-overall pick heading into the 2024 NHL Draft looked every bit the part in Canada’s second game of the tournament with an offensive showcase against Latvia.

With a goal and four assists, Celebrini vaulted to the top of the tournament scoring leaders with six points in two games. This is the type of performance that many have come to expect from the Boston University product.

He showed his ability to get his teammates involved while also displaying his scoring touch as he got sent alone on a breakaway.

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Celebrini was not shy about working into the middle of the ice and drawing defenders to him which allowed his linemates to get open for opportunities.

Where he also stood out was in his efforts without the puck as he was relentless on the backcheck and doing the little things defensively that led to more scoring opportunities.

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It’s that attention to detail that makes Celebrini such a tough player to go up against and at 17 years old, he is showing NHL teams why he is worth the No. 1 draft slot so far.

Safe to say, Canada’s chances of winning the tournament increase as long as Celebrini can keep up this type of performance.

Don’t be surprised if he makes our top three performers of the day a couple of more times before the tournament is over.

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