We have now reached the top 2 players. A part of the ranking that has long been dominated by two people. Now one of those two has aged out of the rankings. Despite the open spot at number two, it was always obvious who was going to take that spot. Polish hockey has two players that are constantly breaking new ground for Polish players and they have yet to even turn 20. The most challenging choice of the rankings was who was number 1 and who had to be number two.
Players had to be under 20 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. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. Ninety-five players were considered for the list and reviewed, and fifty players received a ranking. Players 50-31 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 30 players receive a report.
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2020, change in rankings)
2 – Julia Zielińska (D), 17, Kiekko-Espoo, (3, +1)
Zielińska moves up to second on the list, while in past years, goaltender Martyna Sass had locked down the number two spot. Sass aged off the list, but regardless Zielińska would have been number two while making a strong case for number 1. A big part of that number 1 case is her position. Defensemen are harder to develop, in my opinion. Especially when it comes to growing your game, teams only carry around six on their roster. So if you’re going to take up one as an import, you better be worth it. Zielińska has proved to Kiekko-Espoo that she is more than worth it.
The Sanok native became a more regular player in the Naisten Liiga, the top women’s league in Finland. She played 12 games total, eight in the regular season and four playoff games. She also appeared in 12 games in the Metsis Q, the second division in Finland, where her offensive game flourished. There she scored eight goals and recorded nine assets. Her 17 points were the second most by all U18 defensemen. Her 1.42 point per game average was the most among all U18 defensemen during the 2021-22 season. It is the fifth-best all-time among all U18 defensemen. She also played in six games in Finland’s U18 league, the U18 Aluesarja, where she added another six goals and two assists. Not to mention it was a championship-winning season in the top league.
This was no doubt an outstanding season by a great young player. Finland is most likely the best women’s hockey country outside of North America right now for development. Giving Zielińska a great environment to apply and grow her game. She is in the perfect situation and example of why Polish players need to go abroad due to the lack of coaching and amenities for Polish players. Seeing her play now versus just a couple of years ago is a night and day comparison. She is already one of Poland’s best defenders.
One of the biggest things that make her stick out from other Polish defenders is her offensive ability. There is no one like her in Poland for either national team; Klaudia Chrapek would have probably been the closest comparable. But her offensive potential from the blue line is what takes a top line and power-play unit to the next level. Her overall game continues to get better. At only 17-years-old this year, there is also a lot of time left to grow.
That growth will continue in Finland. As for the 2022 season, Zielińska will be in a more significant role with Kiekko-Espoo, along with a heavily relied on player for the Polish national team at the Olympic Qualifiers and world championships. In December, she would also be on Poland’s U18 squad for the U18s after 2021’s tournament was canceled due to Covid. She will likely still be included on the roster that fights for promotion in the summer. Overall one of the best defenders to ever come out of Poland, and the sky is the limit.