The hockey season continues to march on as we do with the list. We are now entering the next tier I discussed in the last article. If you missed it, I divide the list into three levels. The third tier is the widest, and I can see these players in the PHL, whether on the fourth or second line. The second tier is where we are now. The second tier is players I feel will be top-line stars in the PHL. These are players with that first line, top 2, or starting goalie potential.
Now we have our next five picks, who have experienced a lot of changes in the rankings. Each player either raised or fell by seven spots. That is remarkable for how high we are on the list—the higher in the rankings, the less change we see, with injured players being the exception. A significant fall can be recovered from, as we will see later with the player who the most significant fall in 2020.
Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 30th, 2021. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Players must have played at least five hockey games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred forty-five players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking. Players 80-51 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 50 players receive a report.
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2020, change in rankings)
20 – Karol Biłas (D), 19, STS Sanok, (36, +16)
There is so much great young talent in the Sanok system. That was on full display last year, with the team having a competitive roster despite how young most of the talent was. One of the young players that had to play a lot was Biłas. Just 17-years-old to start the season is a challenging task for any young player, but especially on defense with a forward core that will not offer that much offensive support. He is physically at about average to above-average size for PHL defensemen at 6’0 and 187 lbs. But how was he on the ice?
Biłas is a player that I usually compliment more on his stellar offensive play. He posted five assists in 32 games for Sanok, which led all draft-eligible skaters in the PHL. His point total also tied the 18th best total by any skater in their draft-eligible season of all time. In his draft-eligible season, Biłas’ point total is tied for second all-time among defensemen. It was a rare season for a player this age and especially position.
The offensive side is still the best part of his game. While I called him a two-way guy last year, I would say he is a full-blown offensive defenseman with a nice shot. That statement reflects on his play in both zones. His defensive play is still progressing, and it’s not going to be an issue of skating. It will be an issue of experience and will likely be a bump in the road over the next few years for him. No offense to the level of Slovak hockey, but this was the first time in his career where he had to face professional offenses. If he improves in his zone as he gains more experience, then Biłas can likely be a top-line defenseman in the PHL. His offensive play will always keep him high up on the teams’ lineup with powerplay time.
19 – Sebastian Brynkus (F), 20, Cracovia Krakow, (8, -11)
Brynkus takes a significant fall in my rankings and out of the top ten. It is not at all injury-related. He even played more than the previous year and did not suffer a large production decrease. In the end, Brynkus had a slight decline in offense in a year where so many other young players received huge chances for ice time and offensive opportunities. He is not getting that many chances to create that much production on the lower lines. His play away from the puck in his zone and the opposing continues to improve.
While he continues to improve the other facets of his game, his offensive skill will always be the highlight of his arsenal. His explosiveness is why he became so highly regarded after showing it at IIHF events and in Poland’s lower leagues. Until Brynkus shows his production ability in the PHL, it will be hard to project his ceiling. Among players, his age since 2010 in the PHL, his .18 point per game average last year ranks outside the top 70. Once he proves himself as a producer at the PHL, he will shoot back up the rankings, but question marks will stick until then. It may just be the playing behind imports in Krakow. During the 17 plus year reign of head coach Rudolf Rohacek, only Aron Chmielewski has been able to break into the top 6 while being on the cusp of his 20s.
Whatever the reason, the critical part to remember is Bryknus is only turning 21 at the end of this hockey season and will already have over 150 PHL games under his belt. That experience is precious for a young player, especially when coming with a constant contender like Krakow. Playing with imports from high leagues is always a chance for a young polish player to learn. I have faith we will see Brynkus breakout even if we’re waiting for the end of his U23 days.
18 – Michał Naróg (D), 20, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (25, +7)
Of players who took the best advantage of the covid year, Naróg is at the top of the list. In my opinion, it is much harder for defensemen to make it in the PHL, and we have seen fewer defensemen make it at such a young age and play strong hockey over the years. The 5’8 defenseman didn’t just look in place but earned his way up the roster and found himself playing a top 4 role on defense at just 19-years-old. While the Sosnowiec wasn’t the greatest, he still earned it and helped the team keep pace.
The biggest standout from his season was nine assist in 30 games. His nine assists were tied for 20th among defensemen in the PHL, and it was the most among all U23 defensemen. Since 2010 it would be tied for 30th among all U23 defensemen. He did this on a team that failed to break 100 goals during the regular season, making Narog a part of 10% of his team’s goal while missing six games. Only one defenseman has had more points in their draft-eligible plus two season, Oskar Jaskiewicz.
While that offensive season is impressive for his age and position, that is one part of the game, and as the team improves around him, we have to see how many of those points came from top line minutes with forwards who produce above a point per game level. While Sosnowiec didn’t have a lot of talent, Ruslan Bashirov was third in points, and Yevgeni Nikiforov was seventh in the league. It is not impossible to be natural progression from his rookie year, Narog managed four assists in 30 games and had been above a point per game player in the MHL for a while.
He has avoided making major mistakes on the defensive end while facing the toughest competition in his top-four role. Few things like missing his assignment or picking up a man will go away with more time, especially with his role challenging top line, while paired with better defensive partners. He has quickly turned some heads with his hot start. He was one of the young players named to team Poland for the Baltic Challenge Cup.
17 – Dominik Jarosz (F), 23, JKH GKS Jastrzebie (10, -7)
JKH GKS Jastrzębie won the big one last season. The best team in the league featured a forward group with the best imports in the league. Add in plenty of young players taking that next step in their career and getting noticed for stronger clubs outside Poland. In a year where so many extraordinary moments happened for the organization, it feels weird to dissect a player and ask what went wrong. Each year Jarosz proved himself more and more. With Jastrzębie, he went from three to ten to 22 points. This past year he was dropped back down to eight points in the regular season. He even found himself back in the MHL for the first time since 2018.
It was the largest point drop by any player on our ranking from the previous season. That is also something you don’t want to see out of a player that is starting to reach that point where development starts to slow, and seeing a player’s ceiling is a lot more clear. While a drop like that is concerning, I’m not close to writing him off. It was a down year on one of the most stacked Polish teams we have seen in a long time.
Last year we talked about how great he was, and those same compliments remain. The size and speed make him one of the most dangerous forwards in Poland, especially down low. He is brilliant and seems to have so much patience and control on the ice, generating plenty of scoring chances. While Jarosz is great, there are a few more complete players ahead of him, along with many strong imports. He dropped down the line-up and wasn’t afforded many chances. He will rebound.
16 – Fabian Kapica (F), 19, Podhale Nowy Targ (29, +13)
Kapica makes a big move up the list after his first full professional season. The previous year the young player bounced around a few levels of hockey in Poland and some junior hockey in Germany. Podhale Nowy Targ is a team that is on the downswing right now and is hurting to attract talent. Especially with a significant focus on that talent being Polish. For the past few years, we have seen a push by the blue and yellow bring back a lot of young Polish players to Poland with professional opportunities. Kapica was among those young Poles and the stand out of the group.
Kapica managed three goals in 23 games in his first full professional season. While not eye-popping numbers, it led U19 forwards in goals and points. It is also tied for the sixth-most goals by a player his age since 2000. He plays hard and shows excellent hustle, and I’m honestly surprised he couldn’t generate a few more scoring chances last year. At the MHL level, we saw more offensive dominance. There he posted three goals and seven assists in eight games. His 1.25 point per game average was the fourth-best in his age range. That MHL total is something I love to see out of a player. Most players saw a drop in MHL production. I don’t know what Kapica’s ceiling is. It is hard to project with the limited amount of games he has played over the last two years. He has the potential to be a special player for Poland, and I’m excited to see what he can accomplish on Poland’s u20 squad.