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||Player 9|
|Players 40-31||Player 12||Player 8|
|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
7 – Szymon Bieniek (D), 19, Arizona Bobcats 18U, (7, 0)
Bieniek takes the spot as the top defensemen this year in my list. The promising two-way defensemen took a chance on himself this year going to America to play in the NAPHL 18U for the Arizona Bobcats. The Bobcats are most famously the junior club that Auston Matthews played in before moving over to the U.S. national development team. With the Bobcats this year, the accolades ranked up for Bieniek, and he made a move to a stronger club in the offseason.
The 6’0 Opole native recorded 10 points (4-6-10) in 16 games for the Bobcats. He added two assists in four playoff games. In addition, he played in plenty of tournaments and exhibition games with Arizona. His regular-season point total was good for fourth on the Bobcats in points among all skaters, and first among all defensemen. It was 17th among all defensemen in the league. In November he was named the defensemen of the month,
“Arizona Bobcats 18U defenseman Szymon Bieniek, 18, had a breakout event in Texas. The 6’0/210 lbs. native of Opole, Poland had eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) in four games during the event. That included three assists in a 5-4 loss against Thunder Bay and a goal and two assists in a 7-1 win over Ontario. Up until the weekend in Texas, Bieniek had one assist in eight games played.” From NAPHL.com
Later in the year, he made the NAPHL all-star team, but would not attend due to representing Poland at the U20 World Championships. At the end of the season, he was named to the All-NAPHL 18U Team – Elite Division.
As mentioned earlier, he represented Poland at the U20 World Championships. He posted three points (1-2-3) in five games. He also posted nine shots, which was second among Polish defensemen. In Poland’s game against Estonia, he was named Poland’s top player.
He now moves on to the Philadelphia Hockey Club, who play in the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC). The NCDC is a newer junior league towards the top end of the American junior hockey system. The league’s first season was in 2017. This makes it hard to stay how strong of a development path the league has been, but many players have been able to move onto a stronger junior league like the BCHL, NAHL, or USHL. A lot have also made an NCAA division 1 commitment, with some recent imports in the league being able to turn professional in the top leagues of Europe.
I wish there was more I could say about Bieniek as I do believe he is one of the most talented defensemen Poland has. He is in line to be the most essential defenseman of the future for Poland. Still, he is a player I really didn’t get to see play much this year. His sample size of games isn’t enough to track production and find comparables as well. By all accounts from coaches and staff in his league, he is considered one of the top defensemen there. He continues to earn the trust and praise of Polish coaches as well, despite not being available to them often. Gaining that trust can be hard for young Polish players who play abroad.
Going off what I saw last year and in small bits this season, I still stand by ranking Bieniek as my top defensemen and seventh player overall. He is a strong skater with excellent puck skills. He can read players in the offensive zone really well to create scoring chances. When he is playing with confidence, like in games at U18s, he was patient with the puck waiting for his opposition to make a mistake. He continues to work his way up the hockey ladder, gaining a lot of valuable experience that will only continue his growth.