This year was a pivotal year for Polish hockey. For many players that frequented the list last year or in the years past it was onto full-time professional hockey in Poland or testing their skills in another countries highest junior league, while plenty of players arose to challenge and cemented themselves as future pillars of the national team plenty of players couldn’t live up to their expectations causing drastic changes to the rankings.
This is not the time I wanted to start the list, as the World Championship and U18 World Championship are a great way for players to improve their stock, the U18 World Championship being the first significant exposure for a lot of players. Due to the coronavirus, there are no more tournaments, and hockey is done for the year. Polish hockey itself faces an uncertain future as the virus will leave a lasting effect for years to come.
The real world is a very dark and scary place right now, but I want to look forward to the future while stuck at home. The future of the Polish national team is something that fans should be excited about. I have maintained for years that Poland has more young talent right now then it did any other time this century. I still stand by that opinion today. Poland saw their ace prospect prove himself in professional North American hockey, another NHL draft prospect rise, and a vast increase in depth. Today we start our ranking of the top 50 Men’s U23 players in Poland.
Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on March 27th, 2020. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. While a majority of the ranking is my own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. 140 players were considered for the list and scouted. 80 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 scouting report.
|Players 50-41||Players 15-13|
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking
12 – Klaudiusz Libik (D), 19, Sparta Sarpsborg U21, (11, -1)
Libik has long been one of my favorite Polish players. I think he is immensely talented with exceptional two-way abilities. This is always especially impressive when you consider he didn’t start playing hockey till he was 12 years old. This was only his sixth year of playing hockey. He has a natural talent for the game that is obvious, but it seems a few problems are starting to catch up with him. One is his lack of experience compared to other players. His bumpy junior career in Norway has also seemingly affected his development. In Norway, Libik has bounced between Sparta Sarpsborg and Stjernen Hockey while also being bounced back and forth between playing forward and defensemen. This was the first season in a bit where he was able to really just play defense, only playing one game at forward.
In total this season, he had 13 points (3-10-13) in 41 games. I think his stats are fascinating when you break down the numbers behind them. Libik played for two teams this year. Neither was very good, especially not Stjernen. Stjernen Hockey U21 only had a total of two wins this year in 38 games. Libik had seven points (3-4-7) in 16 games. His seven points would have ended tied for eleventh on the team. This is astonishing when you remember he left the team two months into the season. With Sterjen, he played all 16 of his games on defense. In 14 of them, he was on the team’s second pairing, with the other two being on the third pairing. All his points came on the second pairing. The more striking thing is when you look at the difference between which side he lined up on. When the right-handed defenseman is lined up on the left side, he has two assists in eight matches. Libik playing on the right side has five points (3-2-5) in eight games.
He moved over to Sparta into November and recorded six assists in 25 games. Sparta was not a great team either this year finishing eighth in the league. In his 25 games with Sparta, we saw him line up on the right side only nine times, left side fifteen games, and one game at left wing. He had four assists on the left side, and two assist on the right. When he was on the top pairing, he recorded four assists in eight games, but only two assists in 13 games on the second pairing.
Going through his season game by game this year to try and understand his production was well worth it. It also was needed to try and see how he stacked up versus his competition, as his unique career doesn’t mean comparables can be assumed right away. In regular-season competition, his 11 points (1-10-11) rank thirty-second among all U21 defensemen, and tied for fifteen among U19 defensemen. Among his production matches that stayed active players after the junior-aged 18 season, a lot of them take their baby steps into Norway’s top and second senior leagues. Libik’s inexperience may not see him reach the senior level so quickly, but it appears when given the opportunity to play higher minutes, he excels at them. The right side appears to be where he is more comfortable as well.
Libik has continued to represent Poland at numerous U20 tournaments, including at the IIHF U20 D1B World Championship, where the 6’1 defenseman recorded one assist in four games. One of the big things I noticed about him this year, in my small amount of film, was being more aggressive when it came to shooting the puck. In Poland’s game against Hungary, he fired a shot from the point that Jakub Lewandowski was able to tip and give Poland a 1-0 lead. It appears that was true in his club season as well, firing 88 shots in 41 games, just over two shots a game, which is way up from 30 shots(.77 shots per game), in 39 U21 games last season.
Libik is continuing to get more confident on the defensive end, while also still improving his offensive side. He isn’t lacking on the size end and should continue to get better while gaining more experience. His junior status in Norway also gives him a very unique development and style that no other Polish player really has. I still think Libik is a big part of Poland’s future on defense and don’t imagine his senior debut is that far off if he continues his current development.