Now down to the top 5. The top 5 are the most consistent part of the rankings. Since I started the top 50, the top five have been dominated by five players. This year the usual number one aged out of the rankings. By the mid-way point of the season, I still had no clue which player would take the top spot. So many players made such great strides that it became hard to rank the top five. In the end, after a lot of debate, two players had to be left outside the final three, and weirdly enough, they’re teammates.
Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 30th, 2021. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Players must have played at least five hockey games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred forty-five players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty 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 report.
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2020, change in rankings)
5 – Kamil Wałęga (F), 21, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (6, +1)
Kamil Wałęga has continued to skyrocket up the rankings and was a candidate for even the top spot at times during the season. In both zones, Wałęga has continued to progress into even more of a complete player. It was a banner year in the JKH GKS Jastrzebie as the team took home the PHL championship.
This year, he had a production decline as Jastzrebie added more depth to their forward lineup. Forwards like Kasperlík, Hovorka, Phillips, Rac, Sawicki, and Urbanowicz created a solid veteran group. Add in plenty of great young players like Jarosz, Pas, Soltys, and Wałęga and it created a crowded forward group. In total, Wałęga managed 19 points (8G-11A-19PTS) in 45 games. His point total was tied for sixth among all U23 skaters.
The decline is pretty significant in production, with him going from a .65 point per game average to .42 points per game. While it is not great to see from a player, he did maintain his goal total but saw the assist total drop. We can assess his decrease in part due to power-play opportunities, as last year Wałęga recorded nine powerplay points to just three powerplay points in 2021. Wałęga also made his senior men’s international team debut with four games, including scoring one goal at the three seas cup.
In terms of production matches, it is a nice mix of solid PHL forwards but no players have become great players outside of Poland. Wałęga has signed in Slovakia’s top league, the Tipsport Liga, for the 2022 season. While the ranking was based entirely on the 2021 season, Wałęga has been off to a great start in Slovakia. The future is certainly looking bright for Wałęga, especially with him being a key contributor to Poland at international events in 2022.
4 – Dominik Paś (F), 22, JKH GKS Jastrzębie, (4, +0)
Dominik Paś has long been one of the best young two-way forwards in the country, and that status was upheld in 2021. The Jastrzebie native came off a 2020 season that contained a career-high in PHL points along with plenty of national team success. Pas was affected by the same reasons that we talked about in regards to previous JKH GKS Jastrzebie players. A stacked lineup saw some young players lose some opportunities.
Paś did experience a slight production decline, but it was not as bad compared to other young Jastrzębie forwards. In 2020, he posted a point per game average of .75, while in 2021, it went down to .65 points per game. He posted 24 points (7G-17A-24PTS) in 35 games in the regular season. He broke out during the playoffs. With a new playoff career-high of eight points in 14 games, tied for third on the team. It was crucial for his team, as plenty of the veterans dropped in production by a substantial amount.
It was not just in the PHL that Paś found success. The 5’10 forward recorded four assists in five games with the national team, and this included three assists during the threes seas tournament. Pas was also an essential part of the national team that upset Kazakstan in the qualifying round during 2020 qualifiers and would be on the team that fought with Olympic hopes and possibilities in 2021.
On top of his national team opportunities in the 2022 season, he tried his hand aboard like other young Jastrzębie forward Jan Soltys and Kamil Wałęga. He would join the Hockey Progress Management agency and try for chances in the Chance Liga and Tipsport Liga. Pas would earn a spot on AZ Havirov but returned to Poland and Jastrzębie for the second half of the 2022 season.