OAKVILLE, Ont. — Macklin Celebrini will be on the plane to Sweden.
The 17-year-old presumptive No. 1 pick at June’s NHL draft was named to Canada’s 22-player roster announced Wednesday for the 2024 world junior hockey championship.
“Huge honour,” said a beaming Celebrini. “Like every kid, it’s their dream.”
The smooth-skating centre from Vancouver sits second in the NCAA with 10 goals and 25 points in 15 games this season for Boston University.
“I was surprised at how good he was,” Hockey Canada executive Scott Salmond, who has scouted the phenom at different levels, said following the team’s selection camp.
“For a young player, at 17 years old, to play the way he did here is exciting.”
Celebrini is part of a group led by three teammates with NHL experience — forwards Owen Beck and Fraser Minten, and defenceman Tristan Luneau — set to compete at the under-20 showcase, which runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Owen Allard, Easton Cowan, Nate Danielson, Jordan Dumais, Conor Geekie, Carson Rehkopf, Matthew Savoie, Matthew Wood and Brayden Yager round out the forward group.
“It’s pretty special,” Geekie said. “A lot of emotions.”
Denver Barkey, Jagger Firkus, Paul Ludwinski and Markus Vidicek were the cuts up front.
Hockey Canada had the option of keeping a 13th forward, but instead chose to leave that spot open in hopes an NHL team will release a player — the most likely candidates are Boston Bruins centre Matthew Poitras and Buffalo Sabres winger Zach Benson _ before Canada plays its first exhibition game next week.
“There’s still some opportunities,” Salmond said. “Still some discussions that are ongoing.”
Canada, which has won two straight gold medals and is looking for its first three-peat since 2009, could also recall one of Wednesday’s cuts, but Salmond said none of the forwards released were told they’re next in line.
“We debated that and debated even going with 13,” he said. “That’s not fair to the player and I don’t even think to the team.
“We just want to leave that option open. But there is a chance that we could loop back.”
Oliver Bonk, Jake Furlong, Maveric Lamoureux, Denton Mateychuk, Tanner Molendyk and Noah Warren make up the remainder of the defence corps. Canada cut blueliners Michael Buchinger, Jorian Donovan and Ty Nelson.
The three goaltenders are Samuel St-Hilaire, Scott Ratzlaff and Mathis Rousseau, while Domenic DiVincentiis was sent home.
“Hard decisions,” Peter Anholt, the lead member of Canada’s management group, said of conversations with the cuts. “They’re good players. They’re here for a reason. But we did the work, we’ve gone through the process. It’s always hard to let players go that are 19 years old.
“They handle it like pros. You expect that.”
Beck experienced that at this time last year before getting a surprise call as an injury replacement for the medal round.
“You’re really hoping you don’t hear the knock on the door,” he said. “It definitely sucks when it does happen. For some of those guys, there’s another opportunity next year.
“And for the (other) guys … you’re one of the top-30 players in Canada. You can take a lot of pride in that.”
Canada flies to Europe on Thursday, with the first pre-tournament game set for Tuesday against Denmark’s under-25 team.
The Canadians then meet Switzerland on Dec. 22 and the United States the following day before opening their world juniors Dec. 26 against Finland at Gothenburg’s Scandinavium arena.
Canada doesn’t have any returning players from the 2023 tournament currently in the NHL, with Connor Bedard (Chicago), Adam Fantilli (Columbus) and Kevin Korchinski (Chicago) all important parts on their teams.
Poitras, Benson and Shane Wright (Seattle/AHL) are the other options yet to be made available.
Beck, the lone returnee from last January’s gold-medal winning squad in Halifax, played one game for the Montreal Canadiens in 2022-23.
Minten dressed for four games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fall, while Luneau has skated seven times for the Anaheim Ducks.
“It always comes down to health of teams, it comes down to the contribution that players are making,” Salmond said of getting an NHLer released for the world juniors. “I have my own opinion on players and what this experience is like for them and how important it is, but ultimately respectful of those teams and where players are. We need to give it a few days and see how those players are and the health of their team.
“That’ll dictate a lot of where we are next week.”
Celebrini and Wood, who were roommates at Canada’s selection camp west of Toronto, waited anxiously to find out their fates Wednesday afternoon.
“We were just chilling out,” Celebrini said. “We got that knock at the door. We both jumped up right away.
“Felt like I was in there for a lifetime.”