2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #1

We have now reached the final spot in the rankings! The last piece at the end of a long series. For the first time since I started my rankings, Alan Łyszczarczyk is not the player featured in the final article. Instead, this time a new player takes the crown. The new number one player had a slower rise to the top. While he did spend a year in the German junior system, he mostly played his entire junior career in Poland and broke through to the PHL. The number one player is a home-grown Polish talent that developed in Poland! 

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.

Players 50-41Players 15-11Player #3
Players 40-31Players 10-8Player #2
Players 30-21Players 7-6
Players 20-16Players 5-4

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2020, change in rankings)

1 – Paweł Zygmunt (F), 22, HC Litvinov, (2, +1

The new number one U23 player is Paweł Zygmunt! The big Polish right-wing was a force in the PHL before receiving a tryout with HC Litvinov in 2020. It was crazy to see at the time, and the thought of a young Pole getting chances from the PHL was a weirdly foreign concept. Only Aron Chmielewski sprung to the mind of a player to jump to a league of such magnitude from the PHL. Many people compared the two players a lot, and it was expected that Zygmunt would follow the career path that Chmielewski took in Czechia. Chmielewski mostly had to pay his dues in the Chance Liga, not becoming a top league regular until his fourth year of play. 

In Zygmunt’s rookie year, we saw what Chmielewski had played through, although to a smaller scale. This makes sense; Aron played for one of the best clubs in Czechia with HC Ocelari Trinec, while HC Litvinov is not as prestigious of a club in recent years. Still, Zygmunt played nine games in the Chance Liga and 20 games in the Tipsport Extraliga. Playing his rookie year abroad, mainly in Czechia’s top league, and not looking out of place. It was hard to imagine what 2021 would be like for the winger as he did suffer an injury playing for team Poland at the Olympic Qualifiers that would end his 2020 season prematurely. 

Zygmunt became a full-time player in the Tipsport Extraliga in 2021 at just 21 years of age. An incredible feat for a Polish player. In 55 total games, the Krynica native recorded six goals and four assists for ten points. This was tied for 22nd among all U23 skaters in points, while ninth among players in their 21 age season. He also added three more goals during the Generali Česká Cup. This was an excellent stat-line for Zygmunt, who may never be a top scorer in the Extraliga, but is securing his spot as big body bottom-six forward. In fact, of his 40 production matches, 90% of his matches reached the mid-tier leagues of Europe, playing hundreds of games. The only few matches to not surpass hundreds of games in mid-tier European leagues all had long careers in the Chance Liga.

Zygmunt goal vs Trinec

On top of earning his dues in the Extraliga, Zygmunt has quickly become regarded as one of the national team’s top forwards. He showed that at the Three Seas Cup posting four goals and an assist in five games. Zygmunt was a great player in the PHL with a lot of potential, but whenever you see him play on the national team squad since his time in Czechia, he is a entirely different beast. He plays with confidence and poise on the ice, and his development has progressed exponentially. Zygmunt is easily one of the best wingers that Poland has at its disposal. While he didn’t post any points at the final round of Olympic Qualification, he was one of Poland’s most defensively ready-forwards. 

Zygmunt is finishing up his contract with HC Litvinov after signing a one-year extension in July. While he has been a solid bottom-six forward for the team, he is an import. In 2022, I hope to see him continuing to earn more ice time and chances to increase his development. Even back when he attended Czechia camps as a Polish junior, HC Litvinov was invested in his development. He appears to be long-term for Litvinov and Czechia hockey. 

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