Despite all that seems to go wrong in Polish hockey the light at the end of the tunnel has been the amount of great young talent that Poland has in their system right now. This is the deepest depth of young talent Poland has had this century. Regardless of what happens in regards to management and coaching with the talent that Poland has coming, they should be able to push forward. In this list, I wanted to rank Poland’s young talent to create a better picture of what the future look likes. This is part 2 of the series as we look at the players ranked 7 and 6.
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team
#7 – Szymon Bieniek (D), 18, HC Prerov U19. Bieniek is our top-ranked U23 Polish defensemen. This year he made his team Poland IIHF debut at the U18 and U20 World Championships. Bieniek was trusted with a large role at each tournament and managed it well. At the U20 World Championship, he went pointless. At the U18s, he was able to show off his offensive side with 1 goal and 6 assists. He was named the best player on Poland in two games, as well as being awarded the best defensemen at the tournament overall.
In terms of his junior season, he played in the top Czech junior league with HC Prerov. He led all defensemen on the team in points with 25 (6G, 19A). His 25 points were tied for third on the team overall and his 19 assists were second on the team. Bieniek’s 25 points were tied for 8th in the league for defensemen, and his assists ranked tied for 7th. Bieniek also played one game in the PHL with PZHL U23, where he picked up an assist.
Now, this is the first year that the Czech junior system switched to the main leagues being U16 and U19. The previous system was U18 and U20. So trying to project Bienick off production won’t be extremely accurate and should be taken with more than a grain of salt, but I thought it was worth it to look how similar past 17-year-old players performed in the Czech U18 and Czech U20 leagues that U19 league replaced.
The U18 gives us the most accurate picture of the two leagues. The average age in the Czech U19 league is just under 18-years-old, so closer in age. There are 17 matches for his age and production.
A majority of the players went on to a league comparable with the PHL, like the second level of Czech hockey. About 12 percent of them were able to make it to the NHL, a top euro league, or the American Hockey league. The rest played in the low tier German, Czech, or Slovak leagues.
For the U20 league, four players posted similar production at his age, Vladimir Skoda, David Ruzicka, Ondrej Burzala, and Marek Chvatal. The four players were all able to play at least at a level comparable to the Tipsport Liga in Slovakia. Three of the four made it to the Tipsport Extraliga. Two were selected in the Canadian Hockey League import draft after their 17-year-old season and one was even drafted. This has to be taken with very little confidence. For example, Bieniek was 8th for U18 defensemen scoring this year and his 25 points would have been a top 10 all-time season in the U20 league by a 17-year-old.
While these both have their problems in accuracy, they both paint a bright future for Bieniek. He is a very talented defenseman on the offensive end. He has fantastic puckhandling skills. His offensive instincts are great. Picks good spots for when to rush the puck or pinch in the offensive zone. He can cycle on the powerplay very well He’ll be an offensive leader for Poland U20 next year. For next season, Bieniek may get some professional games with HC Prerov in the Czech second league or has the skill to move to a stronger team in the Czech U19 league.
#6 – Pawel Zygmunt (F), 20, Cracovia Krakow. Zygmunt recently became one of the biggest names in Polish hockey after joining HC Litvinov on a try-out. It would be quite the feat for the young player to sign with a team in the Tipsport Extraliga. He would be the youngest Polish player to do it and first since Aron Chmielewski. We recently wrote a piece looking at past players who made the jump from Poland. It would be a great place for Zygmunt to develop and gain more experience.
This season, Zygmunt was able to make his senior team debut for Poland playing one game. He was a leader on Poland’s U20 team. He recorded 4 assist in 5 games. His 4 assists were tied for the team lead. This was his third and final time representing Poland at the U20s.
Despite his young age, Zygmunt has already played 161 games in PHL. That is only second to Dominik Pas for the most by U20 player in PHL history. This season, he had 7 goals and 12 assists in 57 games. In his three PHL seasons, his production has held steady ranging from 12 to 18 points. He is another young player that always feels like he has a lot of potential to break out production wise.
The first thing that always jumps out when watching Zygmunt is his size at 6’3. He also has surprisingly good agility and speed. There are so many times it seems that defenders are just not ready for him as he quickly moves in between them to charge on the net with the puck. Could use his size more to force his way to the net. He also has a quick shot. His two-way game still needs improvement and overall is a player that just needs to keep playing at higher levels or getting more top opportunities with Cracovia. Going to the Czech leagues would probably do wonders for Zygmunt.