We now hit the top 15 with many players that were counted on to contribute to their PHL team. While they were mainly on the lower lines, their clubs could not live without them. We also have the last of our defensemen with the top two highest ranked. That means after this article, only forwards are left in the rankings. These are the players that I feel are going to be top six forwards and top two defensemen in Poland. They have a shot at representing the national team, but should never be considered roster locks for it potentially.
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)
15 – Konrad Filipek (F), 22, STS Sanok (29, +14)
In Sanok this year, many young players took significant strides. While much of the attention was on Jakub Bukowski, I was impressed with Konrad Filipek as well. The 22-year-old forward posted eight goals and two assists in 43 games. His ten points were a new career high after posting six the previous season. His eight goals were tied for the fifth most by a U23 skater and were third among Polish U23 players. His ten points were the second most by a player in their age 21 season.
Filipek is in the final year of a 2-year-deal he signed with Sanok, giving him at least one more year with his hometown club. The departures of Bukowski and Sawicki, means there is room for the 6’1 forward to build upon his role in 2023. After Miika Elomo took over, Filipek played up the down the lineup with a few chances on the second line and some powerplay time.
14 – Igor Smal (F), 22, GKS Katowice (14, 0)
Smal went from the big fish in a small pond to the small fish in the big championship-winning pond. When you move from the bottom of the PHL to the top, you will see a role reduction. Smal played on the fourth line all season but saw some time on the second line during the playoffs. The development opportunities in Katowice are very strong with their lineup and being under the watch of Jacek Plachta.
Smal posted seven points (2G-5A-7PTS) in 50 games this past season. This was the lowest point total of his PHL career. The role change played a big part in that production drop. Stil in a fourth-line role, posting comparable production to last year is nothing to sneeze at. His seven points were tied for 12th among U23 skaters, and it was tied for third among aged 21 skaters. The speedy young center has re-signed with GKS Katowice for the 2023 season. With quite a few key forwards departing Katowice in the offseason, there may be a chance for Smal to jump into a higher spot in the lineup.
13 – Jakub Prokurat (F), 21, GKS Katowice (8, -7)
From one small fish that went to a big pond to the next, the story of Jakub Prokurat is similar to Smal. My expectations were a bit higher for Prokurat, as he was coming off a .50 point per game average season in the Oberliga. When you look at the history of players between the two leagues, that .50 usually translates into solid production in Poland. But like Smal, he mainly was stuck on the PHL champion’s fourth line while also spending some time in the MHL on loan to KS Naprzod Janow.
He spent most of his season with Katowice, where in 47 games, he posted five points (2G-3A-5PTS). This was tied for fifth in points among players in their aged 20 season. He had much more success in the MHL, recording 17 points (10G-7A-17PTS) in just ten games. His 1.70 point per game average was fifth among U21 skaters in the league. Prokurat could potentially be a Patryk Wronka-esque player but lacked the two-way game and explosiveness to move up a PHL lineup in 2022.
12 – Karol Biłas (D), 20, STS Sanok (20, +8)
We have reached our second-highest ranked defensemen, the highest-ranked defensemen to play in Poland during the 2023 season. Biłas made his mark both in Poland and on the international stage. He played in a career-high 42 PHL games this year while recording five assists. This led all U20 defensemen in points and saw him tied for second among all U20 skaters in points. He also appeared in the MHL, almost exclusively during the playoffs, where he scored twice and picked up three assists in eight games. To top it off the defenseman also appeared in three CJL games and averaged a point per game.
On the international stage, Biłas made two big appearances. The first was playing for Poland at the IIHF Division 1 Group B U20 World Championships. The 6’0 defenseman was named captain of the event for Poland. The Sanok native also made his senior debut representing Poland at the Baltic Challenge Cup, where he scored against Ukraine. Still mostly playing on the bottom pairings of Sanok, he has re-signed for the 2023 season. I expect this to be when he starts to make significant climbs up the lineup.
11 – Szymon Bieniek (D), 21, New Jersey Rockets (8, -3)
We have now hit our highest-ranked defensemen on the list, meaning all of the top 10 are forwards. Bieniek was a player I was excited to see what the offseason could have in store. While much of his season was canceled due to the pandemic, in 2022 he made his Chance Liga debut and had shown strong production in his six Czechia U20 games. In the end, Bieniek landed back in the US with the New Jersey Rockets.
The Rockets have teams in the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) and the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). The NCDC is in the second tier of US Junior leagues and is considered the third-best junior league overall. The USPHL is in the third tier and a decent step below the NCDC. Most USPHL players go on to make low-level college commitments.
With that said, Bieniek played in the USPHL most of the season. He was only in five NCDC games and got on the scoresheet once with an assist. In the USPHL, he played in 50 games scoring 15 goals and assisting on 30. His 45 points were tied for 13th among all defensemen. During the season, Bieniek earned defensemen of the month honors in January. Most of his production matches went to play in NCAA D3, but one made an NCAA commitment and has gone on to play in the ECHL. Bieniek will have better pro opportunities in Europe. But for a defenseman past his junior days, I would have liked to see him start to take baby steps into professional hockey, or at least a stronger junior league. Still a great season and I’m excited to see where he plays next year.
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