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|
|Players 30-21||Player 11|
|Players 20-16||Player 10|
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking
9 – Jakub Michałowski (D), 22, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (25, +16)
The son of a boxer was already guaranteed a substantial rise in the rankings this year after continuing to cement himself on the Jastrezbie back end. He is a very talented defensive first guy that will give forwards trouble as they try to rush to the net. His rise on my list only became bigger with his late appointment to team Poland at the Olympic qualifiers. Poland had their back against the wall when national team regulars Kamil Górny and Mateusz Bryk both dropped out of the tournament so close to the first match. Poland went into the tournament naming only one replacement in Jakub Michałowski. The red and white eagles only had a total of six defensemen at the tournament, there were no backups at all.
Facing a KHL team in your IIHF senior debut is quite the task for a young player. Michałowski had already been starting to become a frequent player on the Polish men’s team with appearances at non-IIHF events. Still, now he had to make his senior IIHF debut on a large stage with almost zero room for any mistakes. In the first two games, when Poland faced lesser competition in the Netherlands and Ukraine. Michałowski really did well and held his own. You saw why even at such a young age, he already has over 150 PHL games, but in the final game against Kazakhstan, as the speed was ramped up, you saw the creeks in his game start to form, as he takes part of the blame on both of the blue and yellow’s goals.
On the first Kazakhstan goal, the speed of another Kazakhstan forward beat Michalowksi in a footrace around that net. He was then able to again get a pass past him, which resulted in an easy tap in. Though on that goal, his partner should have the scorer tied up, I’m not really sure what is going on in the slot.
Later the speed of the Kazak forwards pushed the Polish defensemen into an awkward situation. Michałowski tried to play the middle and then get low to try and block any pass that was going to potentially come through, but the pass beat him, and he fell in a desperate attempt to stop it. Kazakhstan failed to score on the initial play, but both Polish defenders were now vastly out of positions, and Kazakhstan banged in an easy rebound. Either way, it became clear watching that game, that Michałowski was pretty overwhelmed at times.
Valtonen still relied on Michałowski heavily. He finished fourth on team Poland in ice time with just under 18 minutes a game. On the boxscore, he recorded one assist and four shots at the tournament.
The 6’2 Jastrzebie native recorded seven points (2-5-7) in 48 games this season with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. He also had two assists in nine games at the Visegrad Cup. As he has continued to gradually improve his skills, the shutdown defensemen has earned his spot on team Poland. When pushed to his extremes against a literal KHL team in Kazakhstan, there were cracks in his game, but I would expect that from any young defensemen. Despite the plays, I pointed out there were plenty of strong moments in those games as well.
He also more than held his own in the PHL this year. He has the size, is a good skater, and has good awareness. His offensive skills have also come a long way, though it will never be a significant part of his game as of the shutdown role he is usually given. The more experience he gets versus top opponents, the better he will be. This was really the first season he had numerous tests against stronger opponents outside of Poland. Michalowski has the potential to be deployed against other team’s top lines, but still has ways to go to reach that spot.
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