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|
|Players 40-31||Player 12|
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking
11 – Patryk Krężołek (F), 22, GKS Katowice, (21, +10)
Krężołek was the ultimate net-front presence in Polish hockey this season. The 6’1 forward will win any battle for the puck in front of the net and has the art of tipping pucks down. He reminded me of former Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmström. This truly should earn him some national team consideration just to help with the powerplay.
While his net-front presence was the biggest thing I saw out of him this year, he is not a one-trick pony by any means. If the puck is on his stick and there is even a millimeter of an opening his accurate shot will find a way to bury the puck. He is a goal-scoring machine that has only become more dangerous with each passing season. Krężołek will likely be a consistent 20 goal scorer in the PHL, and maybe hit or at least flirt with 30 goal years.
Krężołek posted new career highs this year with GKS Katowice. In 53 games, the former KTH Krynica junior player posted 20 goals and 10 assists. This was the first time he hit 20 goals in a year, which is very impressive when you consider the increased quality of the PHL this year, along with the fact he played six fewer games when compared to 2018-19. This led all U23 players in goals, and he finished fourth in points. He did seem to struggle in games outside of Poland though, at the Continental Cup and Visegrad Cup tournaments, he would post just one assist in 13 games.
One of his more impressive feats as well was looking at the Janow effect. Janow was so bad this season it inflicted quite a few point totals, but zero of his goals came against Janow. Only one of his goals came against PZHL U23, meaning pretty much all his goals came against quality competition. That is something that has been really hard to find in the PHL this year with how many multi-point games young players posted against Janow and PZHL U23.
His career up to now has been a journey where the goal-scoring machine has faced his fair share of hurdles. He missed a majority of the 2017-18 season, including the U20 World Championships. Missing years like that can be a major blow for a young player as it is so important to their development. It didn’t seem to affect Krężołek at all who came back and did what he did best, ruin goalie’s save percentages.
He currently faces another hurdle this offseason. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, GKS Katowice released all their players on long term contracts as a cost-cutting maneuver. This means the young forward is now a free agent. He reportedly is being courted by both GKS Tychy and JKH GKS Jastrzebie, while Katowice is still hoping he would return on a new deal. His free agency should be one of the most interesting deals in Poland this offseason. If he goes to somewhere, where he’ll get ice time and powerplay chances I have no doubt he’ll repeat and grow on his success from this season. GKS Katowice put him on their first line and he more than excelled in the role.
His potential is a hard one to chart. Looking at how other players have fared in their age 21 seasons, we only see that nine other players have posted a 20 goal season at that age since 2000-2001. This list is an impressive one featuring Bartlomiej Neupauer, Damian Kapica, Damian Słaboń, Grzegorz Pasiut, and Teddy Da Costa. Of those ten players to record a 20 goal season in their age 21 season, Krężołek has the lowest assist and points per game totals.
His points per game total is the 54th highest by an aged 21 player since 2000-2001. He has 29 production matches during this time span, the most popular outcome among these players is a top 6 forward on a PHL team, with national team careers ranging from regular to a bit sporadic, but not accomplishing much outside of Poland. Which is how I would describe Krężołek’s potential. He is going to be a great player in Poland, that should be on the national team in a top-nine role with powerplay time. I feel he has one of the highest floors among any player on this list, but is also the closest to reaching his ceiling. His ceiling isn’t bad at all either, as their not many players who will be able to record the goal numbers he does.