Early Look at the 2024 NHL Draft

Welcome to a very early look at some of the top prospects for the 2024 NHL Entry Draft. Although this draft is nearly two years away, many prospects already stand out from the crowd. The 2023 Draft has already been referred to by many as the deepest draft in years. I hope that the 2024 Draft gets the same level of hype because there will be some excellent prospects worthy of selection.

2024 Draft Top Prospects: An Early Look
2024 Draft Top Prospects: An Early Look (The Hockey Writers)

All the following players are still a year away from their draft season, meaning their first year of draft eligibility. The year before one’s draft season is referred to as the draft-1 (draft minus-one) season and the year before that is the draft-2 season. This is a valuable way of comparing a prospect’s season to those of former prospects who were at roughly the same stage of their development. 

With all that out of the way, here’s a look at the likely top prospects in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft.

Aron Kiviharju – Defense

Aron Kiviharju is an early favourite for the first overall pick and looks like the next great Finnish prospect. He played in the top Finnish junior league (U20 SM-sarja) last season, where he scored 30 points in 35 games as a 15-16-year-old defenseman. Only one U16 player has ever scored more points in that league, and that was a young Patrik Laine. Kiviharju outscored all other U16 players in league history, including NHL stars Alexander Barkov and Jesse Puljujärvi, and he’s doing this as a defenseman. 

Related: 2023 NHL Draft Rankings – Baracchini’s Top 15

He was also named to Team Finland for the U18 World Junior Championship in May 2022, where he was one of the best defenders in the tournament. Kiviharju earned six assists in six games en route to a bronze medal. He is eligible for four U20 WJC tournaments, so he is likely to be a big part of Team Finland for the next few years on the junior team and then on the senior team for the rest of his career.  

Kiviharju has a January birthday, which means that he will play the first half of next season at age 16. After proving himself at each of the U16, U18, and U20 levels for his club TPS, he has earned a shot at playing in the top Finnish professional league, Liiga, next season. He stands at 5-foot-10 but has several years to grow before that will be thought of as an obstacle to his NHL success. Kiviharju is a modern puck-moving defender with a style similar to Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Quinn Hughes, so even if he doesn’t grow much more, he will have a realistic opportunity in today’s NHL. 

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One of the most exciting things about Kiviharju is that he seems to have more to give, both offensively and defensively. He has shown flashes of offensive dominance – moments where he darts around the offensive zone like Makar after attacking the open space left by his opponents. On the defensive end, the biggest thing holding him back is his lack of strength compared to his opponents. I’m not worried about him having a small frame; it’s more that he is a boy among men. If he can add muscle and further improve his confidence in the offensive zone, Kiviharju will be a safe bet to be the first player who hears his name called at the 2024 NHL Draft.

Macklin Celebrini – Forward

Macklin Celebrini is a center with near NHL-ready size, measuring in at 5-foot-11 and 181 pounds, with two more years before his draft. He is an electric offensive player who currently has the best chance to challenge Kiviharju for the first overall selection. He regularly makes excellent plays out of nothing and has decided to take the United States Hockey League (USHL) route as he has committed to play for the Chicago Steel in the USHL for the 2022-23 season. 

Celebrini grew up in North Vancouver, British Columbia, but he was drafted first overall in the 2022 WHL U.S. Prospect Draft because he has spent the last two seasons at Shattuck St. Mary’s prep academy, which has built a great reputation of developing great young hockey players, including former first-overall draft picks Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon. Celebrini led the United States High School Prep Circuit in points as a 15-year-old, scoring 50 goals and 117 total points in 52 games.

Related: Predicting Moritz Seider’s Future Based on Rookie Season

Growing up in Vancouver, Celebrini has mentioned Ryan Kesler as one of the players that he models his game after, and that was on full display in Team Canada’s training camp for the World U17 Challenge, which took place in July. His offensive talents were already clear, but his effort and talent on defence stood out among his peers, including an excellent steal on the forecheck, which led to a game-tying goal in a scrimmage. Celebrini also stood out at this development camp because he was much more willing to use his teammates than most, making excellent passes to find the best scoring chance available. 

He has a very mature understanding of the game, both on and off the ice, and much of that can be attributed to his father, who is a professional in the sports industry. Rick Celebrini is the Director of Sports Medicine for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA, who won the NBA championship last season. The younger Celebrini has an astute understanding of team systems and is excited to play for the Chicago Steel because of how they use and attack space while in the offensive zone.

Celebrini will certainly be a name to watch out for over the next two seasons as he has the potential to be the next elite centerman to go at the top of the draft. Should he succeed in his rookie season in the USHL, I would expect him to transition to the NCAA for his draft year, where he can prove himself to NHL teams against much tougher competition. 

Michael Hage – Forward

Michael Hage is a two-way center who recently committed to the Chicago Steel of the USHL, meaning he will form a dynamic duo with Celebrini. He played 57 games last season for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, where he led the league in scoring with 116 points. He was also excellent in the OHL Cup, where junior teams from across Ontario face off in a tournament for the purpose of scouting players for the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Hage’s 16 points in seven games were ranked second in the tournament, behind only Michael Misa, a top prospect for the 2025 NHL Draft who has already been granted exceptional status to play in the OHL for the Saginaw Spirit next season at the age of 15.

The Chicago Steel have recently had unprecedented success recruiting top Canadian prospects to play in the USHL. It used to be much more common for Canadian players to play out their junior careers in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) until they are drafted into the NHL. The USHL and NCAA have earned more respect as valuable paths to the NHL, which is why we’re seeing more and more Canadian prospects play in the USHL during their draft-1 year and then joining the NCAA for their draft year.

Owen Power played for the Steel for two seasons from 2018-20, then joined the University of Michigan for his draft year before being selected first overall in the 2021 Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. One of the top prospects in the 2023 Draft is taking the same route. Adam Fantilli played two seasons for the Chicago Steel from 2020-22, and he is set to play for the University of Michigan next season. Hage and Celebrini are the next two Canadian prospects who could take a similar route to professional hockey.

Back to Hage’s game. He is a crafty playmaker who is excellent at attacking the space between opposing defenders’ skates as well as the triangle between their skates and the blade of their stick. The way he can maneuver through his opponents in transition is exceptional, and he is able to beat his peers when he moves to the middle of the ice with some great stickhandling, though his shot is good enough to beat goalies from the perimeter if he takes the puck to the outside instead. 

It will be fascinating to see how Hage and Celebrini adapt to the USHL next season, but regardless of their rookie success, they are both well on their way to being selected near the top of the 2024 NHL Entry Draft. 

Cole Eiserman – Forward

The top American prospect at this point is, without a doubt, Cole Eiserman. Still just 15 years old, he has an excellent shot and already possesses NHL-ready size. He measures 6-foot-0 and 181 pounds, and with an August 2006 birthday, he will be one of the youngest players in the 2024 Draft class. 

Eiserman last played with his age group in the 2020-21 season on the U14 team at Shattuck St. Mary’s. He was so clearly a transcendent talent that he jumped all the way up to the U18 team for the 2021-22 season, where he was again much better than most of his much older competition. In U14, Eiserman scored 97 goals and 154 points in 50 games – those are video game numbers. As a member of the U18 team this year in the U.S. High School Prep league, he scored 56 goals and 86 points in 53 games, the fifth highest point total in the league. 

No prospect in this draft has a more NHL-ready shot than Eiserman at this point. His release is lightning quick, and he can get his shot off from a wide variety of stances, which only serves to enhance his offensive deception. His strength is clear in his excellent puck protection, and his ability to win puck battles along the board, though it will be worth watching to see if he is still so dominant in those facets of the game when his peers catch up to him physically.

Related: Red Wings’ 2022 Draft Class Review

For my money, Eiserman is the best finisher in the draft class and could become a dominant scorer in the NHL if his strength and shot continue to trend in the right direction. He will be joining the U17 team at the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP), where he will look to join Jack Hughes, Auston Matthews, and Jack Eichel as NHL stars who have gone through the USNTDP. 

Ivan Demidov – Forward

The top Russian prospect in the 2024 Draft at this point is Ivan Demidov, who played so well in a Russian U17 league early last season that he was promoted to the MHL (Russia’s top U20 junior league) at the age of 15. Though he is not on the level of top 2023 prospect Matvei Michkov, it is fair to think of Demidov as Michkov-lite because of his remarkable goal-scoring ability.

Demidov competed for Team Russia at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he scored five points in five games, winning gold as a 15-year-old in a U18 tournament. When he first made it to the MHL last season, Demidov played for SKA-Varayagi, a team made up of players who didn’t quite make the cut for the premier junior team called SKA-1946, the home of Michkov. After 12 dominant games on SKA-Varayagi, where Demidov scored 14 points, he was promoted to SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, where he only managed seven points in 13 games, albeit in a much smaller role.

SKA-1946 is regularly the top team in the MHL, so it will be tough for Demidov to carve out a spot for himself as one of the team’s youngest players next year, but I expect him to endear himself to his coaches early next season, especially if their star forward Michkov makes the full-time leap to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the top Russian professional league, next season. 

Michkov scored 52 points in 50 MHL games in his draft-2 year, which averages out to 1.04 points per game. Demidov scored 21 points in 25 MHL games last year in his draft-2 season, a per-game rate of 0.84. While it is obviously a smaller sample size, for Demidov to even be in the same ballpark as Michkov is something special. 

Demidov is an excellent skater who is quick and elusive, making it exceedingly difficult for opposing defenders to stop him. His skating is good enough that he often gets back on defense quicker than his opponents can make offensive plays, though his game is certainly built around his elite offensive potential. He was large enough and strong enough to fight off checks in the MHL last season, and if he can continue to improve next season, he will be in the conversation as a top-five pick for the 2024 Draft in a year’s time.

Berkly Catton – Forward        

Despite only playing five games in the 2020-21 season, Berkly Catton was drafted first overall in the 2021 Western Hockey League (WHL) prospects draft by the Spokane Chiefs. Catton played 21 games with the Saskatoon Contacts U18 team last season where he scored 41 points, which was good enough to be the 24thhighest scoring player in the league despite playing less than half of the games that his opponents did. 

Catton also played 15 games with Shattuck St. Mary’s U16 team, scoring 23 points. He also managed to line up for nine WHL games at the end of the Chiefs’ season, even scoring four points in a very limited role as a 16-year-old. As the top selection in the 2021 WHL prospects draft, Catton will be expected to begin taking over for the Chiefs next season as he is the only high-end NHL prospect that they have right now.

The Chiefs expect Catton to produce offense at a high level in the WHL, but they are also preparing for him to be one of their top penalty killers. They have a lot of hope that his 200-foot game will translate to the WHL, and if so, he could develop into an excellent two-way forward at the NHL level. Catton is one of the top WHL rookies to keep an eye on when the 2022-23 season begins. 

Tanner Howe – Forward

After being drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 WHL prospects draft by the Regina Pats, expectations were low for Tanner Howe. In his rookie season, he managed to score 69 points in 64 games while playing on the wing of Connor Bedard. Howe was a member of Canada’s U18 team at both the U18 World Junior Championship and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. 

Related: Blue Jackets Sign Johnny Gaudreau to 7-Year Deal

Lots of people are trying to discount Howe’s skill because his primary linemate is the top prospect in hockey right now. While I understand that most players would look better if paired with Bedard, there is nobody else on the Pats, who has been able to produce alongside him quite like Howe has. Bedard scored 100 points last season, Howe had 69, and the next highest point total among forwards on the Pats was Logan Nijhoff who had 49. Check out the goal in the video below and then try to argue that Howe isn’t going to be a special player.

Keep in mind that Howe was one of the youngest players in the WHL last season and had the second most points among all players under the age of 17 (behind only Bedard). Howe is rather slight, measuring at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, but his agility and speed make him a very elusive skater who can be hard to pin down. He played a ton of minutes on the penalty kill for Regina last season and his competitiveness has made him quite effective there. 

Because he has a bit of a smaller body right now, Howe has learned how to win puck battles against bigger opponents with his brain. If his body catches up a bit to the rest of the WHL, his disadvantages will be minimized, and his skills will become even more pronounced. 

Jakub Chromiak – Defense

The top defensive prospect in the 2024 Draft is currently Jakub Chromiak, a 16-year-old right-shot defenseman who has already played 58 games of professional hockey split between the top two professional leagues in Slovakia. Chromiak is an offensive defenseman with great four-way mobility which allows him to make plays on both sides of the ice. 

He was an important member of Team Slovakia’s U18 squad that won gold at the U18 Division 1A tournament in 2022, which earned Slovakia a promotion to the top division for the 2023 tournament. Chromiak’s hockey IQ is very good, and he makes smart passes in favour of easy ones. 

The Sudbury Wolves of the OHL selected Chromiak with the eighth overall pick in the 2022 CHL Import Draft, and there is a real chance that he will travel to Canada to play the rest of his junior hockey career. His older brother Martin Chromiak did the same, joining the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. However, the younger Chromiak may want to stay in Slovakia’s top professional league for the next two seasons since they have become a bit more of a legitimate path to the NHL because of the success of Simon Nemec, who was drafted out of the Slovakian league second overall in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Plenty of Early Potential in the 2024 Draft

We are still at least a year away from most prospect evaluators focussing the bulk of their attention on the 2024 Draft, but the top-end talent is already clear to see. Kiviharju could very well be the best defensive prospect in decades and will have tons of eyes on him over the next two seasons over in Finland. It should be fun to watch Celebrini and Eiserman battle for the title of top forward in the draft class, though there is still plenty of time for someone else to establish themselves. 


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