We are more than halfway through the rankings now! Many remaining players have already well-established themselves as PHL players or have taken on the challenges of a top junior league abroad. This group of players features two major risers and the two highest debut rankings for 2022.
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. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2021, change in rankings)
30 – Karol Sterbenz (F), 19, HK Poprad U20 (15, -15)
Sterbenz was putting up a lot of points in the Austrian junior system, making him an intriguing player in the 2022 offseason. GKS Katowice agreed and offered him a tryout and invitation to training camp, but he would stay abroad in the end. He signed on with HK Propad U20, who play in Slovakia’s top junior hockey league. It was not the most explosive year production-wise, as the Katowice native posted 16 points (10G-6A-16PTS) in 49 games. His two-way playing contributed to the club’s top regular season finish and silver medal in the playoffs.
Moving from Austria to Slovakia would be a jump, especially with such a strong club. Still, I was a bit disappointed in his production. His 16 points were 30th among all 18-year-old skaters in the league. When we look at production matches, many did not pursue hockey after their junior career. Of those who did, only 19% when to play 50 games in Slovakia’s top league, while a majority, 60%, went on to play in Slovakia’s second league. Sterbenz also represented Poland at the Divison 1 Group B U20 World Championships, where he posted 1 goal in 5 games. To project him being a strong player outside of Poland, he will have to post better production year in his age 19 season.
29 – Krystian Mocarski (F), 23, STS Sanok (28, -1)
Mocarski excelled in a more prominent role on the Gdansk and was one of 2021’s breakout players. In 2022, he moved to a better organization in Sanok. That move, of course, would come with a role decrease. While Sanok was not the best team, they certainly had more options at the forward end. Mocarski felt that as his production was halved. In 45 games, he posted one goal and nine assists. This placed him tied for seventh among all U23 skaters in points. His nine assists were top five among the age group.
Mocarski bounced around the lineup this year in Sanok, mostly settling in on the third line. He did earn some top-line chances late in the season, and it appears that Miika Elomo trusted him more than Marek Zietara did. We also see a vast difference in production under the two coaches, as it went from .15 under Zietara to .28 under Elomo. Mocarski is already a third liner in Poland, and I think his ceiling will be a middle-six guy but could crack the top lines in the bottom half of the PHL.
28 – Jakub Ślusarczyk (F), 19, HC Vitkovice U20 (57, +29)
Ślusarczyk is another player that receives a massive boost after barely playing the previous year due to COVID canceling Czech junior seasons. After spending the first two years abroad with HC Poruba, Ślusarczyk jumped to HC Vitkovice U20 in the top level of Czechia junior hockey. He flourished in his first season with the club, recording 11 goals and ten assists in 48 games. His 21 points were 47th among 18-year-old forwards.
It wasn’t instant success at the start of the year, as he only recorded six points in 20 games for the year’s first half. In December, he represented Poland at the Division 1 Group B U20 World Championships. There in five games, he recorded one goal. Once he returned, he was a bit of a changed player. He finished the year with 15 points in 27 games. Maybe it was just getting more comfortable in Czechia’s top junior league. Either way, that second half gives me a lot of hope for what next year could be.
27 – Michał Zając (F), 21, KH Torun (32, +5)
Zając is another player that left the sinking boat of Gdansk and moved on to another PHL club. The Bytom native stayed in northern Poland, moving to KH Torun. Like Mocarski, he would get a minor role downgrade, especially as a younger player. He didn’t experience that big of a drop in production though. For the 2022 season, he recorded eight points (2G-6A-8PTS) in 40 games. This was only down three points from his totals in 2021. It was the 11th most points by a U23 skater and the second most by an aged 20 forward.
I was thrilled with his production, given he was pretty much glued to the bottom six for Torun this year. So only a slight production drop with that ice time is not the end of the world. Production matches in the PHL don’t paint the brightest picture. Only one match, Martin Przygodzki, has gone on to great PHL success. Many players hovered in the 20-point range and had long PHL careers as critical bottom six contributors.
26 – Sebastian Brynkus (F), 21, Cracovia Krakow (19, -7)
Brynkus drops for two consecutive years on the list. In Cracovia, he has not been trusted with a significant role. This year Brynkus was stapled to the third and fourth line. He appeared in 46 games and scored three goals while assisting on four. The seven points being the second lowest point total in his four PHL seasons. He did make his second appearance for the Polish senior national team, where he scored a goal versus Ukraine.
It was rumored during the offseason that Brynkus could be leaving Cracovia. In the end, he returns to the red and white. When I wrote this report, Cracovia had already added Marek Racuk, Martin Kasperlík, Patryk Wronka, Radoslaw Sawicki, Robert Arrak, and Roman Rác to their forward core. It doesn’t seem like many spots in the top nine will open up soon. At only 21-years-old, Brynkus has a reasonable amount of time to develop.
25 – Armen Khoperia (D), 22, Zaglebie Sosnowiec (38, +13)
Khoperia is my fastest-rising PHL defenseman on the list this year. He earned his way up the Sosnowiec lineup, eventually taking on the top pairing duties. His club was in a complicated situation after Bartłomiej Bychawski left the team in January, and Daniel Klinecký failed to live up to expectations. Khoperia was thrown into the fire and ran with it.
2022 was his highest career point total as he posted six assists in 45 games. His six assists were tied for the most among all U23 defensemen. The stay-at-home defender also was appointed to the men’s senior national team for the April grouping. For 2023, Armen Khoperia is continuing to suit up for Zaglebie Sosnowiec. He should get plenty of chances and challenges.
24 – Dominik Kolat (F), 18, HC Poruba U20 (NR)
Kolat is our second highest-ranked debut player this year. The Czechia-born forward also has spent most of his junior career in the country. After only playing seven games in the Czechia U17 league for AZ Havirov in 2021, Kolat moved up to the U20 level with HC Poruba U20. This jump put him in the second-level of U20 hockey in Czechia. He also made a single appearance for AZ Havirov at the top level.
In 36 games, the Ostrava native scored 13 goals and assisted on nine. His .71 point per game average was 21st in the league among draft-eligible skaters. He broke out when he played for Poland U18 at the IIHF level. There in five games, he scored four goals and assisted on two. His four goals were tied for third in the tournament. I am excited to see him continue to grow in the Czech junior system.
23 – Eryk Schafer (D), 18, KH Torun (NR)
Schafer comes in as our highest-ranked debuting player. Watching him play this year, the best way I can describe him is a ball of energy that will not stop bouncing around til its hits someone or something. He made an impact everywhere he played this year, starting in the PHL, where he made the Torun lineup. He played in 27 games this year and scored his first PHL goal. Playing in the PHL at 17 as a defenseman is rare, so it makes sense that 83% of his production matches have become PHL regulars.
On top of his PHL season, he appeared for Sokoly Torun in the MHL. There he recorded 18 points (9G-9A-18PTS) in 21 games. This was tied for sixth among all defensemen in points while leading all U18 defensemen. He also made the Poland U20 squad for the D1B World Championships, where he posted one assist in five games. His season did end on a down note when he was left off the U18s squad due to off-ice issues. Head coach Łukasz Sokół did not elaborate on what occurred but said he talked with Schafer, who understood and took it well.
22 – Oliwier Kasperek (D), 20, MOSM Tychy (50, +28)
Kasperek comes in as our fourth highest-ranked defensemen. The Tychy native was the best defenseman for Poland at the U20 World Championships, where he posted two goals and one assist in five games. Those two goals led Poland at the event and were tied for the lead among all defensemen. His scoring was not his only asset, as he showed poise and firm control of the blue line. In his own zone against much stronger competition, he held his own.
Kasperek mainly played in the MHL this year but did appear in four games with GKS Tychy in the PHL. In 24 games, he posted 16 points (3G-13A-16PTS). His increase in production from 2021 saw him tied for second in points among all U20 defensemen in the MHL. For next year, he has already re-signed with Tychy. It will be hard to see him breaking the lineup full-time, but I hope he can get a few more PHL chances.
21 – Adrian Gromadzki (F), 18, HC Dynamo Pardubice U20 (26, +5)
One of my favorite things about Gromadzki is if you have a look at his season-by-season results, he has never not had a point per game season in at least one of level of hockey. From the junior leagues of Poland to Germany to now Czechia. In 2022, he moved up to the U20 leagues. He split the year between HC Chrudim U20 in the Czech second U20 league and HC Dynamo Pardubice U20 at the top level.
He posted 26 points (14G-12A-26PTS) at the second level in Czechia in 20 games. His 1.30 point per game average was the fourth-best among U18 skaters, and it’s the third-best season by a player in a draft-eligible -1 season since 2010. In the top league, his production was not as strong as he fought to earn his palace on the team. He came in at 10 points (1G-9A-10PTS) in 27 games. His 10 points were tied for 19th among skaters in their Draft Eligible -1 season. 60% of his matches have gone to play at least 50 games in the Czechia’s top league.
It was a very strong year for Gromadzki, with great stints at both the top two levels of junior hockey in Czechia. To cap off his year, he represented Poland at the Division 1 Group B U18s, putting up two assists in five games.
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