2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. #50-41

After the 30-player-long part 1, we have now reached the first article of the top 50. This is the first group of players who, for me, graded out as solid PHL players in past, current, and future play. This group of players was hard to rank, as it has a few players struggling to find their identity in the PHL. It becomes hard to tell after a few PHL seasons if a player still possesses the ability to climb the lineup and become an impact producer. On top of that, we had plenty of players not previously ranked, breaking the top 50. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16 years old on June 1st, 2022. 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. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred sixty-nine players were considered for the list and reviewed, and eighty players received a ranking.

Players 80-51

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2021, change in rankings)

50 – Szymon Dobosz (F), 20, UKS Niedzwiadki Sanok (41, -9)

The top 50 spot always feels like its a player who has a larger story to their season. There were questions about Dobosz’s future at the end of the 2021 hockey year, and those were never really resolved. The young forward would not sign or play anywhere during the year’s first half. He did attend national team camps and sparrings, but that was it. He was then selected to the roster of the Polish U20 team for the Division 1 Group B World Championship. He was rusty at the tournament and looked out of place sometimes. After Poland was relegated, head coach Artur Slusarczyk said he believed that Dobosz was still one of the best wingers available to them even without playing a club season. 

Szymon Dobosz Goal vs. Sokoly Torun MHL

After the international tournament, Dobosz would return to Sanok and play in the MHL for the remainder of the season. He finished with 15 points (10G-5A-15PTS) in 13 games. He is a talented forward, no doubt. At this stage, he needs to play as much as possible to continue to develop. If Dobosz plays a lot, I could see him in a middle-six for Sanok. 

49 – Jakub Blanik (F), 21, Zaglebie Sosnowiec (27, -22

I had high hopes that Blanik’s production would recover this year after he only posted three points in 31 games during the 2021 season. Instead, his production went down as he only recorded two assists in 41 games. Those two assists also both came in one game against Podhale. These are very disappointing numbers for a forward, especially for one who had posted seven points in just 17 games during the 2020 season. He did post 20 points (3G-17A-20PTS) in 12 MHL games. 

Blanik primary assist vs. Podhale Nowy Targ PHL

Now that Blanik is in his 20s, these will be make-or-break seasons. His high character and competitiveness are things that coaches rave about. I see him being a PHL forward, even if only a bottom-six one. 

48 – Michał Nawrocki (F),  19, Kalix HC J20, (43, -5

Nawrocki continues his journeyman junior career as he split time between Poland and Sweden. This year, he spent most of his time with Kalix HC J20 in Sweden’s second U20 division. There in 22 games, he recorded two goals and two assists. The other part of his season was in the MHL with Sokoly Torun. He only played in ten games, but he scored six goals and assisted on five. He is likely too good to play in the MHL full time, so I have liked seeing him take chances abroad. 

Nawrocki Goal vs. Sokoly Torun MHL

For the 2022 season, he will move to the United States and play for the Hershey Cubs in the USPHL Premier League. A lower-tier junior league in states, but still boasts some professional alumni. We have seen quite a few Poles play in the league, but Nawrocki will possibly be the first forward to get extended time. 

47 – Kacper Ziarkowski (F), 17, Krefelder EV 1981 U17, (NR) 

Ziarkowski receives a huge debut rating after only playing five games in 2021. His 2022 season was the first time we saw him in an extended run, and it was a great showing. The Torun native posted 46 points (27G-19A-46PTS) in 34 Germany U17 games. His 46 points were 27th among all skaters in the league, the fourth most by a non-German player. His 27 goals were tied for 9th in the league. While the current structure of Germany’s U17 league has only been around since 2019, his production matches suggest he should be a good DNL U20 player. Plenty of them have already taken their first professional steps across all the top three levels of German senior hockey. 

Ziarkowski did take some baby steps to the next level. He played in one Obliega game in 2022 with Krefelder EV 1981 U23. He also managed to get in two games at the DNL U20 level, where he recorded one goal. The team has already announced that Ziarkowski will be promoted to the DNL U20 top level next year. Poland could be looking at an excellent IIHF U20 producer. 

46 – Oskar Bajwenko (D), 21, KH Torun, (63, +17

Bajwenko was a player I have been watching for a bit. As I think the aggressive defender has a strong shot at being a top-four defenseman in Poland. He started to crawl into the PHL this year, playing in 14 regular-season games and then 4 playoff games. He also showed he is ready to graduate from the MHL after posting a career-high of 15 points (3G-12A-15PTS) in 12 games. His 1.25 point per game average was fourth among all defensemen. 

Bajwenko Goal vs. Sokoly Torun MHL

He will be returning to a much more crowded defensemen room in Torun, as the team is returning their key Poles while also adding Jakub Gimiński and Ukrainian Volodymyr Aleksyuk. I do like that former longtime PHL defensemen Lukasz Podsiadlo will be aiding his development as an assistant coach in Torun. I expect Bajwenko to potentially step into a full-time top-six role with Torun this year. 

45 – Filip Świderski (G), 21, STS Sanok, (NR) 

After a pretty quiet 2021, Świderski took control of the backup spot in the Sanok lineup. During the 2021 season, Patrik Spesny was entrenched in the starting role, playing every game of the year. But in 2022, Spesny wasn’t as sharp, and this opened up a few chances for Filip Świderski. A specific game I want to highlight was on October 17th, vs. Unia Oswiecim. With the start, Świderski played great while facing constant pressure. He stopped 38 of 40 shots. In total, he posted a .894 save percentage in eight games. That is the 6th highest save percentage by a 21-year-old goalie in the PHL since 2010 (min 5 games). 

Świderski save vs. Unia Oswiecim PHL

Towards the end of the season, STS Sanok would add a new starting goalie in Dominik Salama. The move would shift Spesny to the backup role, and Swiderski went back down to the MHL in time for the playoffs. In the playoffs, he was lights out, posting a .935 save percentage in 7 games. Only 4 U23 goalies played in more than 5 PHL games last year, and Świderski posted the best save percentage by a decent margin. With new PHL goalie rules, I think Salama and Świderski will be a great pairing, and the Sanok native could hit double-digit appearances with a few starts. 

44 – Kacper Gruźla (F), 22, GKS Tychy (23, -21

After a break-out year in 2021, Gruźla weirdly saw his role diminish on Tychy. He would suit up in 18 games this year, mainly on the lower lines, and go pointless. He also played in the MHL, scoring nine goals and assisting on six in 11 games. This year was his age 21 season, so MHL production does not hold much water in his ranking. He has played in PHL games across four seasons, and this is the first time he failed to record a single point. 

Gruźla should be a PHL player, but it is clear that was probably not going to happen in Tychy soon. Unsurprisingly, the team announced he would leave the club. I hope to see him in a different organization that can provide more opportunities. Next season is his age 22 year so the clock is ticking, and I think Gruzla has the potential to be more than a bottom-six player. 

43 – Tomasz Grobelkiewicz (G), 19, SMS PZHL Katowice (NR) 

Grobelkiewicz is a prospect I have been watching for a while, as I have enjoyed watching the slow rebirth of hockey in Lodz. He received a look with Krakow to start the season. But returned to the MHL, and had a breakout year as the starting netminder for SMS PZHL Katowice. In 18 games, he posted a .905 save percentage, which was tied for third among all goalies and second among U20 goalies. He would also stay strong in three MHL playoff games, posting a .902 save percentage.

Grobelkiewicz save vs Lodz MHL

After a great MHL season, he would not slow down. He joined Polonia Bytom for the CLJ playoffs and posted his best performance of the year. In Five games, he stopped 111 shots and only allowed seven goals. No doubt in my mind that next year, I see Grobelkiewicz as the starting goalie for team Poland at the U20 World Championships. 

42 – Filip Sienkiewicz (F), 19, UKS Niedzwiadki Sanok (NR)

Sienkiewicz fell under the radar the last two seasons as he played for the Connecticut Chiefs junior teams in the United States. He returned to Poland this year full-time in 2022 to play for Sanok. He would start the year in the MHL and build a strong season. In total, he scored 14 goals and 16 assists in 28 games. His 30 points were 11th among U20 skaters in the MHL and the fifth most by an 18-year-old skater. 

Sienkiewicz goal vs. Zagłębie Sosnowiec PHL

His strong MHL play led to him getting a PHL callup with Sanok in January. He would go on to play in eight games in the regular season and three in the playoffs. In those 11 games, he scored his first career goal and assisted on two more. A tiny sample size, but it was fourth among U20 skaters in points and second-best point per game average. Sienkiewicz was a pleasant late surprise for Sanok, and it will be interesting to see his role next year. 

41 – Aleks Menc (F), 18, Strömsbro IF J18 (37, -4

Aleks Menc played his first full year abroad in Sweden this year. He mainly played in the J18 Region, which is the second level of U18 hockey in Sweden. The young center recorded 18 points (12G-6A-18PTS) in 34 games. Looking at his exact production matches that went on to play a senior career, 38 percent went on to play in Sweden’s third level of hockey (HockeyEttan). No matches have reached a stronger league than the HockeyEttan. Menc also played for Poland at the U18 Divison 1 Group B World Championships, where he recorded one assist.

Menc Goal vs France U18 Exhibition

He is a talented offensive forward with a strong shot but lacks consistency in his game. This is most evident by 10 of his 18 points coming in the last nine games of the season—only eight points in the first 25 games of the year. Maybe the jump to Sweden took a lot of adjustment. He wasn’t surrounded by the most talented roster this year either, and his 18 points were third on Strömsbro. I am curious to see if Menc stays in Sweden next year. There is a lot of talent in there if someone can mold it correctly.

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