Category: Mens Prospects

2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. Stats and Notes

The Men’s top 50 list has officially concluded for the year. It is now time to look at just some random notes for the list, like what the team had the most players or which player had the highest rise. It was a fun and challenging list thanks to the pandemic. For some players, large judgment calls had to be made given the limited amount of games for some teams. The goal this year was as well to give more credit to goaltenders, but it is hard to rank them in Poland given the sparse opportunities available for them. We don’t see many goalies in the PHL under the age of U23, not a lot of players abroad, and to top it off the MHL is not an easy place to watch or ever find statistical trends.

All Articles

Players 50-41Players 15-11Player #3
Players 40-31Players 10-8Player #2
Players 30-21Players 7-6Player #1
Players 20-16Players 5-4

Top 80 Rankings

Biggest Risers

  1. Jakub Bukowski +36
  2. Michal Nawrocki +33
  3. Filip Plonka +28
  4. Krystian Mocarski +27
  5. Kacper Gruzla +26

Biggest Drops

  1. Patryk Pelaczyk -16
  2. Lukasz Kaminski -16
  3. Igor Augustyniak -15
  4. Marcin Plachetka -13
  5. Sebastian Brynkus -11

Highest List Debuts

  1. Adrian Gromadzki (26)
  2. Aleks Menc (37)
  3. Krzyzstof Macias (39)
  4. Dawid Wróblewski (46)
  5. Michał Kusak (49)

Breakdown By Position

Breakdown by Team

Poland or Abroad

Notes

  • This is the first time Jastrzębie has not led the rankings in players
  • Czechia (9) was the only country that had 4 or more ranked Polish players
  • This was the least amount of players playing in Germany to be ranked.
  • This was the most amount of goalies to appear on the list with 7.

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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. 

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #2

And then there were two. Both of these players have hung around in my top five for a while. This year, an opening for the top spot emerged with the usual number one aging out and Jakub Lewandowski having his season canceled. That left two players outside of Poland competing with the best in the PHL. It was hard to pick as quite a few players in the PHL had great years. In the end, the achievement of these two players made them the clear top two to me. While the difference between them raises the question, what is better to score a lot in a lower-tier league or score a little in a higher-tier league? The national team performances helped be the deciding factor, but that question remains, especially for the 2022 rankings. 

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 10-8
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)

2 –  Damian Tyczyński (C), 22, HK Spisska Nova Ves (5, +3

The one word I would use to describe the career of Tyczyński is relentless. The young Polish forward has an infamous quote about the NHL and higher European chances he was not afforded due to being a Pole.

 “Of course. It is my dream. But there is one problem – I am a Pole, and they do not want the Poles. When they learn that I am from Poland, they lose interest.” 

That interview line has stuck in my head for a long time as we constantly await the next Pole to impact hockey significantly? What if they’re just not getting the chance they deserve because another country has more credibility in the hockey world. Poles are not the only ones that face this problem either. 

It gives young Poles more reason to potentially give up the sport they love if the PHL does not fulfill their desires. We have recently seen a substantial shift in young Poles getting opportunities abroad in a big part due to a great group of young players and Poland gaining a strong hockey agency led by a former national team forward, Krzysztof Zapała. The change in Poland reminded me of another quote this time about Tyczyński by former national team player Damian Slabon.

Damian Tyczyński has the skill to play, a good chance to play in the national team for many years. I wish him to play abroad. Please God.” 

This is where the word relentless comes into play for the native of Krynica. For years, the young center showed himself to be one of the best players in Slovakia’s top junior leagues. No professional team ever wanted to give the Pole a shot despite all the success and points. So what did he do? With a fire under him, he returned to Poland, posting 35 points in 40 PHL games for PZHL U23 and Zaglebie Sosnowiec. He proved he was ready to be a professional player. This PHL performance finally got him the professional shot in Slovakia that had eluded him. He posted five points in five games in Slovakia’s second league with HK Spisska Nova Ves. 

For the 2021 season, he would return to HK Spisska Nova Ves, this time for the entire year in the senior league. Over the year, he would post 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points in 49 games. His 45 points were the 10th most in the second level of Slovak hockey and the most by a U23 player with a 10 point gap for second place. It was the 13th best season in the history of the Slovak second league for points by a 20-year-old player. A true breakout season for the young Pole. He was especially clutch in the playoffs helping HK Spisska Nova Ves earn promotion to the Tipos Extraliga with 15 points (6G-9A-15PTS) in 15 playoff games. 

Tyczyński Goal vs. HK Martin

Even in a season of such promise and poise, the center had ups and downs. He missed four games early in the year due to an ankle injury. While after going through a rough streak of only one assist in nine matches, he worked with a psychologist, who helped him rediscover his confidence and game. We love to see a player reaching out for help and being open about it in his interview with hokej.net. 

The 2022 season is a big one for Tyczyński, as the 21-year-old will be moving to the Tipos Extraliga with HK Spisska Nova Ves. The promotion giving him a chance to show his skills in a much stronger league. In terms of production matches, 60% of matches went on to have careers in the mid-tier of European hockey. Which bolds well for Tyczyński’s future! I wouldn’t bet against him hitting higher and higher achievements, as he is relentless.

If you want to keep up with all the Polish hockey action, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey, like our Facebook page, and add us on Instagram @PolishPuck_.

2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #3

Now down to the final three. These are three players that will be very special for Polish hockey. What they have accomplished is already unique and rare for Polish players. Every time we see a Polish team get relegated, or the men’s team suffers a cruel loss that leaves us devastated. Remembering players like these, are why I have so much hope in Polish hockey. Unfortunately, with our player coming in at number three, there is not much to talk about with their season. They already had a 99% chance to be in the top five, but what he did in the offseason set it in stone. 

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 15-11
Players 40-31Players 10-8
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)

3 – Jakub Lewandowski, 20, HC Vitkovice U20, (2, -1

Jakub Lewandowski has done everything perfectly to succeed outside of Poland. He has the size, skills, and success in strong junior leagues. That made it no surprise when he was listed as a potential late NHL draft pick, along with moving over to the United State’s top junior league, the United States Hockey League. For the 2021 season, with covid causing havoc, Lewandowski returned to Czechia to play junior hockey. After five games, Lewandowski’s season would end due to Czechia canceling the U20 season. Lewandowski did record five points (1G-4A-5PTS) in his five games. 

During the offseason, Lewandowski made a big career move. He announced an NCAA commitment to Bemidji State University. He will be only the third Polish player to play in the NCAA and the first since Filip Starzyński in 2018. Bemidji State University has been playing at the top level of college hockey since 1999. Tom Serratore has coached the Beavers from Northern Minnesota since they made the NCAA jump. It was also the former home of NHL players Brad Hunt (Canucks) and Zach Whitecloud (Golden Knights).

It was hard to rank players that had a situation like Lewandowski. If Lewanowskoski had just played the whole year, he would no doubt be the Polish player of the year. But losing a year of development is a big thing for young players, there is also not much to judge a player on for the season. Lewandowski is no doubt a special player and, based on his freshman year in the NCAA, is easily on pace to surpass past Polish players that appeared in the NCAA. For the age 20 season, his point per game average is slightly above Mike Cichy’s 20-year-old season.

Player #2

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2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #5-4

Now down to the top 5. The top 5 are the most consistent part of the rankings. Since I started the top 50, the top five have been dominated by five players. This year the usual number one aged out of the rankings. By the mid-way point of the season, I still had no clue which player would take the top spot. So many players made such great strides that it became hard to rank the top five. In the end, after a lot of debate, two players had to be left outside the final three, and weirdly enough, they’re teammates. 

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 15-11
Players 40-31Players 10-8
Players 30-21Players 7-6
Players 20-16

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

5 – Kamil Wałęga (F), 21, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (6, +1) 

Kamil Wałęga has continued to skyrocket up the rankings and was a candidate for even the top spot at times during the season. In both zones, Wałęga has continued to progress into even more of a complete player. It was a banner year in the JKH GKS Jastrzebie as the team took home the PHL championship. 

This year, he had a production decline as Jastzrebie added more depth to their forward lineup. Forwards like Kasperlík, Hovorka, Phillips, Rac, Sawicki, and Urbanowicz created a solid veteran group. Add in plenty of great young players like Jarosz, Pas, Soltys, and Wałęga and it created a crowded forward group. In total, Wałęga managed 19 points (8G-11A-19PTS) in 45 games. His point total was tied for sixth among all U23 skaters. 

The decline is pretty significant in production, with him going from a .65 point per game average to .42 points per game. While it is not great to see from a player, he did maintain his goal total but saw the assist total drop. We can assess his decrease in part due to power-play opportunities, as last year Wałęga recorded nine powerplay points to just three powerplay points in 2021. Wałęga also made his senior men’s international team debut with four games, including scoring one goal at the three seas cup. 

In terms of production matches, it is a nice mix of solid PHL forwards but no players have become great players outside of Poland. Wałęga has signed in Slovakia’s top league, the Tipsport Liga, for the 2022 season. While the ranking was based entirely on the 2021 season, Wałęga has been off to a great start in Slovakia. The future is certainly looking bright for Wałęga, especially with him being a key contributor to Poland at international events in 2022. 

4 – Dominik Paś (F), 22, JKH GKS Jastrzębie, (4, +0) 

Dominik Paś has long been one of the best young two-way forwards in the country, and that status was upheld in 2021. The Jastrzebie native came off a 2020 season that contained a career-high in PHL points along with plenty of national team success. Pas was affected by the same reasons that we talked about in regards to previous JKH GKS Jastrzebie players. A stacked lineup saw some young players lose some opportunities. 

Paś did experience a slight production decline, but it was not as bad compared to other young Jastrzębie forwards. In 2020, he posted a point per game average of .75, while in 2021, it went down to .65 points per game. He posted 24 points (7G-17A-24PTS) in 35 games in the regular season. He broke out during the playoffs. With a new playoff career-high of eight points in 14 games, tied for third on the team. It was crucial for his team, as plenty of the veterans dropped in production by a substantial amount. 

It was not just in the PHL that Paś found success. The 5’10 forward recorded four assists in five games with the national team, and this included three assists during the threes seas tournament. Pas was also an essential part of the national team that upset Kazakstan in the qualifying round during 2020 qualifiers and would be on the team that fought with Olympic hopes and possibilities in 2021. 

On top of his national team opportunities in the 2022 season, he tried his hand aboard like other young Jastrzębie forward Jan Soltys and Kamil Wałęga. He would join the Hockey Progress Management agency and try for chances in the Chance Liga and Tipsport Liga. Pas would earn a spot on AZ Havirov but returned to Poland and Jastrzębie for the second half of the 2022 season.

Player #3

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2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #7-6

We are now at the lucky seven. The last ranking featured a few players that had run into some unfortunate career developments or had a season cut short due to covid. That is not the case with our following two players. Both in Poland or abroad, these players went into a senior league and crushed it. These are the kinds of players that make me so excited for Poland’s future, especially when a lot of things seem bleak for hockey in the country. What is so great about it is well is both players have such different paths and still became fantastic players. 

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 15-11
Players 40-31Players 10-8
Players 30-21
Players 20-16

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

7 – Patryk Krężołek (F), 23, KH GKS Katowice, (11, +4) 

Krężołek ends his tenure on the list with a fantastic season. The Krynica native has established himself as one of the best goal scorers in the PHL. Even though he suffered a late injury to miss the end of the season and playoffs, Krężołek posted a new career-high of 18 goals in 36 games, .5 goals per game average. Over the past two years, his 38 goals are the eighth-most by any player in Poland. The players above him all having had success outside Poland. His 38 goals during that span are also 11 more than the next U23 player. 

Krężołek is a pure goal scorer with great offensive instincts and is extremely smart and dangerous in front of an opponent’s goal. He proved that it wasn’t just a lucky case of the right time and place in 2020 by increasing his goal count in 2021. It wasn’t just in the goal-scoring department either, as the 6’1 forward recorded 15 assists for a new career-high in helpers. It was also a new career-high in points with 33, finishing first among Polish U23 players. Unfortunately, the year would end on a low point as Krężołek would injure his collarbone and it required surgery. 

Krężołek Goal vs Sosnowiec

Krężołek was also able to earn more chances with the national team as he played in two games during a Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament. He was also named to the three seas roster but could not play. For the 2021 season, the talented forward has already re-upped with GKS Katowice. He should continue to be a crucial part of Katowice and a growing presence on the Polish national team.

6 – Jakub Prokurat (F), 20, Krefelder EV 1981 U23, (14, +8) 

The most significant way in my book to show you’re a legit top prospect is to move to a senior league before you turn 20 and rank up strong production. That is precisely what Jakub Prokurat did in 2021. The 19-year-old forward has played in Germany since 2019. After proving himself in Germany’s top U20 league, he earned a spot on Krefelder EV 1981 U23. As the name suggests, they are a U23 team that plays in Germany’s third league, the Oberliga. The Oberliga is a common place for Polish players and PHL free-agent additions, and the league regularly transition wells to the PHL in terms of production. 

Prokurat showed he was good enough to play there with a great year, posting 23 points (3G-20A-PTS) in 41 games. His 20 assists were the second-most by a U20 in the Oberliga, while his 23 points were the fifth most. His season is unique, and there are only 12 production matches for him. The good news is that 100% of them went on to play in a league comparable to the PHL, and 25% played at least 50 games in a mid-level European league. While it may not suggest that Prokurat is going to be playing for a top European club, it looks he is guaranteed to be a solid professional with a great chance of doing that in a league stronger than the PHL. 

Speaking of the PHL, that is where the product of the Torun junior system will be heading next season as the Warszawa native had a successful tryout with Katowice. Playing for a lower-standing Oberliga team is probably not as good as playing for a top PHL team. GKS Katowice head coach Jacek Płachta is coming off coaching Obelriga squad Crocodiles Hamburg to three straight top-five finishes. It is an excellent chance for Prokurat to develop his skills and patch up the rest of his game. He has surpassed the junior ranks and is already a pro-ready player.

Players #5-4

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2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #10-8

We have reached the top ten. These are the players that I feel are the best ten young players from Poland. These are all players that I think are undoubtedly going to be stars in Poland, critical contributors to the national team, and or solid players outside of Poland. This is the hardest part of the ranking to do. The top of the rankings opened up even more with regulars like Alan Łyszczarczyk and Bartłomiej Jeziorski departing the rankings due to age. Unfortunately, there are a few players in this portion that won’t get long reports as they didn’t have much of a season, or there is a new development in their career. There are two heartbreaks for Poland’s future coming. 

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 15-11
Players 40-31
Players 30-21
Players 20-16

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

10 – Jan Sołtys (F), 21, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (18, +10

Often described by many as the Polish player who would do the best in North America, Sołtys returned from injury this past season. Sołtys plays a complete two-way game and does not shine away from physical play. No matter what role he is given, he can do it. He is the exact kind of player that is a perfect fit for when Poland goes up against faster or larger opponents. He was only ranked 18th last year after suffering a season-ending injury after 16 games. 

In his 2021 comeback, we started to see a return to form for the 6’1 forward. In 26 regular-season games, he posted seven goals and seven assists. Unfortunately, Soltys would not play the entire season as the championship lineup would bounce Sołtys around, including a handful of games in the MHL for Polonia Bytom. As the season went on, he proved himself more and more to earn more chances. While the production numbers were down from his top line season with PZHL U23, it was up last year from his 16 game season in terms of points per game. In the playoffs, he would only record one goal in ten games.

Soltys goal vs Podhale

After a successful championship-winning year in the Jastrzebie, Sołtys went on to try his hand abroad. This included a try-out in the Chance Liga that turned out unsuccessful. He would then return home, signing a long-term contract with Unia Oswiecim. The contract would allow him to sign aboard if another offer presented itself. Unfortunately, after only three games with Unia Oswiecim, he would suffer a season-ending ACL tear. It is exceptionally challenging for such a young player to deal with two massive knee injuries that have stolen two critical development years. Soltys is a player who I will never bet against though. 

9 – Maciej Witan (F), 21, STS Sanok, (19, +10)

This one is going to be kept short. Witan is no doubt one of the best young players in Poland. Last year with Sanok, he set the PHL on fire. The Sanok native recorded ten goals and 12 assists in 40 games. This was tied for the eighth-most points by a player in their draft-eligible plus two seasons since the 2000 season. It was a fantastic year by a great young player who seems to possess all the tools to be a great forward outside of Poland and first liner in the PHL. 

Witan Goal vs Sosnowiec

Unfortunately, early into the 2022 season, Witan was accused of doping by Poland’s anti-doping agency. The ranking was set up way before this was known in the offseason. He is facing a two to a four-year ban from hockey. Since it was the Polish anti-doping agency, I’m not sure where his career would lie in playing in another European country or North America. The Polish anti-doping agency is partnered with the World Anti-Doping Agency.  As of now, the 20-year-old forward has pleaded not guilty. He will have to prove he did not take the substance on purpose. Losing two to four years would be devastating for any young player and could be career-ending. 

8 – Szymon Bieniek (D), 21, Bili Tygri Liberec U20, (7, -1

After a great year in the USA, Bieniek returned to Europe. He initially tried to turn professional trying out for Sosnowiec but instead returned to Czechia. Bieniek signed with Bili Tygri Liberec to play in the U20 league, along with the teams’ affiliate club in the Chance Liga. Unfortunately, what seemed like an excellent setup for a young defenseman went sour fast, as Czechia elected to cancel most seasons due to Coivd-19. 

In the U20 league, Bieniek managed four assists in six games. While he also made his professional debut playing in six chance Liga games with HC Benatky nad Jizerou. In the Chance Liga, the 6’0 defender averaged 14:35 time on ice per game. Bieniek is moving back to the United States for the 2022 season, as he will be playing with New Jersey Rockets in the National Collegiate Development Conference and USPHL Premier. Bieniek has stayed consistent in my rankings, but it is a hard choice due to a lack of games, especially ones with footage. Going on league standings and small sample performances, Bieniek appears to have a great chance to be a quality player outside of Poland.

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It May Be Time To Sound The Alarms. 5 Thoughts 2021 U20 World Championships

I was excited to get back to our usual and familiar IIHF events going into this tournament. Now I just want to go back. This team’s performance was the worst by any national team since I started covering Polish Hockey. This team was beyond sloppy and undisciplined, so much to the point that I don’t think any of the national team staff should return. I don’t know what happened at all the previous camps and exhibitions, but this team was not ready for easily beatable opponents. Poland won a medal in every Division 1 Group B tournament they played in from 2013 to 2019, with one gold and bronze each and four silver medals. They have finished fourth and sixth, this year, in the last two tournaments. 

Poland started off the tournament against eventual tournament champions France, and they lost 6-2 in somewhat of an expected result. After some terrible second-period penalties, Poland dropped to Slovenia, but that game looked competitive as Poland fell 3-1. These losses to the top two teams in the group are not concerning. In game three, Poland gets blown out by Japan 7-2, and Poland accounts for almost one-third of Japan’s entire goals for amount in the tournament. Game four against host Estonia should be the best chance to win, and Poland just self-destructed with constant penalties and awful defense. They would lose in overtime 4-3. Ukraine would send Poland down to division two on the final day with a four to one win. 

I would give every position group an F, a shameful performance for the national team on all fronts. 

Undisciplined 

I feel like I talk about penalties too much in five thoughts. As it is a constant problem for national teams with Poland’s hard-nosed style of hockey. Often too many penalties show a talent disparity, with one unit failing to contain opponents without having to slash, trip, or whatever other illegal takedown. In this series, Poland took dumb and awful penalties against everyone. Including letting Estonia have a total of 35 MINUTES of powerplay time. In total, Poland committed 28 two-minute penalties and two five-minute majors. This gave Poland an average of 21 minutes on the penalty kill a game. An entire period per game. Poland had two misconducts to boot as well. 

The choices 

Before the tournament, there were a few choices that I had to question, but I respected the offense and was going to trust the staff with what they saw in camps and more. The defense was worse than I could have imagined allowing players to slice through them like a hot knife in butter. The goaltending didn’t fare well, while it appeared Plonka was healthy. After playing zero competitive games this year, Szymon Dobosz made the team, and boy, did you see that rust at times. Overall this team was not in a position to succeed. They didn’t have the most outstanding selections to pick from. But when you only score nine goals, seven less than any other Polish team in group B history. There were some missed choices. 

The Staff Failed 

This entire coaching staff failed. The penalties are partly to blame on the coaching staff. Artur Slusarczyk and his staff have to have their team more prepared and disciplined. The blame for some possible team choices will fall on them. The biggest thing they need to take responsibility for? This team had almost zero structure and was not ready to play. If there was a system, it was executed poorly or downright garbage. Poland is lucky quite a few players got lucky breakaway goals, or this staff would even look worse. Poland needs to get a new staff quickly. I think it’s time to bring back an import head coach before the U20 team and program goes entirely off the rails, which would be not earning a promotion next year. 

Kapica Shines 

I can’t be all negative, Fabian Kapica impressed me in this tournament. While he only finished with one goal and one assist, he did lead Poland in shots with 15. He looked to be playing with a ton of confidence and creativity in the offensive zone.  It is hard to see that with young players in the PHL sometimes due to the talent disparity and playing against grown men. Kapica looked excellent and is backing it up with another strong year in the PHL. 

Do We Dare Ask What Is Next? 

So now, what is next for the U20 team? While they will be playing in Division 2 Group A for the first time since the group system in the IIHF was established. This will see Poland take on Great Britain, Lithuania, South Korea, Spain, and the team promoted from division two group B. Great Britain and South Korea are looking pretty scary to me personally. Only eight players from this team will be returning next year. Notable for Poland that returning group includes; Fabian Kapica, Jakub Ślusarczyk, Kacper Macias, Karol Sterbenz, and Krzyzstof Macias.This group is going to need a lot of help.

Quick Thoughts

  • Bartosz Florczak struggled in this tournament, especially against Slovenia. His penalties in the second period were highly unnecessary and a big reason Poland ultimately lost at the time. 
  • Eryk Schafer was a ball of energy at times. He finished second in shots for Polish defensemen. A long ways to go, but I think Torun might have a good one. 
  • Oskar Polak and Mikolaj Szczepkowski both had some good games in net. Szczepkowski was sharp against Slovenia.
  • Oliwier Kasperek scored two goals within two minutes of each other. Those two goals led Poland, not bad for a defenseman.

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2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #15-11

We now enter the final article before entering the top 10. We’re starting to get some of the most prominent stand-out players from the 2021 season. These players earned a lot of playing time and were critical to their team. All but one player in the next five moved up in the rankings—only one with a significant rise. When the list gets to as high as we are large player movement is pretty uncommon. 

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 50-41
Players 40-31
Players 30-21
Players 20-16

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

15 – Karol Sterbenz (F), 19, Okanagan HC Europe U20 (33, +18)

Sterbenz is a rare Polish player in the Austrian junior system as he suited up for Okanagan HC. Okanagan HC Europe is a team made of players from across Europe and the rest of the world that plays in the Austrian league. In his first year, the Katowice native showed well at the U18 and U20 levels. In 2021, he balled out while primarily playing in the U20 league. He finished second on his team in points with 30 in just 25 games. His 13 goals and 17 assists were also both second on the team. He would add another goal and assist in two playoff games as well. 

His 30 points were part of a three-way tie for fourth in the ICE Young Stars League and tied for first among draft-eligible players. It stands up while too historically. While the Young Stars league is newer, 55% of Sterbenz production comparables have competed in the ICE Hockey League, the top level of hockey in Austria. Another 36% went on to become a pro in a league around the PHL level. His performance in Austria indeed suggests that Sterbenz has a lot of professional potential. 

We also did see a small glimpse of him in the MHL, and it was not as strong of numbers. In four games for Janow, the 5’9 forward only managed a single assist. In one exhibition game in the PHL when Janow took on Katowice, and Sterbenz was able to score. Sterbenz tried to turn professional with GKS Katowice this year, but his tryout was unsuccessful. The talented 20-year-old forward is now going to the Slovak junior system. It will be interesting to see if his production can carry over or catch up with the Austrian numbers. 

14 – Igor Smal, C, 21, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (15, +1)

Smal escaped a toxic situation in Gdansk and moved on to Sosnowiec. While he was avoiding a train wreck, Sosnowiec was a team with many holes in their roster. Smal was going to be tasked with being one of the top centers on the team. He was slotted in the second-line center role between Andrei Dubinin and Ivan Rybchik, Rybchik a late addition to the team playing 17 games. Sosnowiec only scored 88 goals as a team, with 47% of them involving first liner Ruslan Bashirov. 

Igor Smal Goal vs Gdansk

An increased role defensively and offensively was the challenge for Igor Smal. The 6’0 center had the physical tools to be ready for the position. The experience was there, as 2021 would be his third full PHL season. Still, he was only 20 and played a more sheltered role with PKH Gdansk. In the end, he would match his point total from the previous year in four fewer games. His four goals and six assists ranked 15th in the PHL for points, and it was 4th among players 20 years old. 

Smal is an intelligent player that processes the game well to avoid mistakes. From everyone we have talked to, he works very hard and sets his sights high, gaining consistently, and more experience will do wonders for him. I would love to see him abroad potentially again, but his PHL production will need to increase for that. For the following year, he is transferring to GKS Katowice. He will be on a much stronger team, going from poor teams where he was trusted with a more prominent role to a spot on a contender where his role will be vastly diminished. 

13 – Jakub Michalowski, D, 23, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (9, -4)

After a year filled with team achievements, Jakub Michalowski drops a few spots on the list. Unfortunately, Jastrzebie had to make a few additions for his team to become champions. Jiří Klimíček, Mateusz Bryk, and Marcin Horzelski joined Jastrzebie in the offseason, while Eriks Sevcenko would join towards the end. Those four joined national team defenders Arkadiusz Kostek, Kamil Gorny, and Jakub Giminski. Add in Jakub Michalowski, and you have a pretty full defense. We saw this when Michalowski was the odd man and received a few conditioning games in the MHL. That is not something you want to see from a 23-year-old player, but understandable given the team. 

In total, the shutdown defenseman managed two assists in 39 games. The first time Michalowski failed to hit 40 games since 2017. In his 5 MHL appearances, he managed two goals and four assists. A rare outburst of offense from the usual one-way defenseman. He does so much well at the PHL level, including good size, strong skating, and puck-moving abilities. He more than makes up for what he lacks in his offensive skill in defensive talent and potential. After a solid and quick start to his career, his development pace has slowed down. His floor is still a bottom four defensemen. Michalowski still has a ways to go a top-line player. 

For the 2022 season, the long-time player and pupil of JKH GKS Jastrzebie is moving to the GKS Tychy. It will be interesting to see how the player performs in a different environment. There he seems poised to have the potential to move the lineup more than he would in JKH GKS Jastrzebie, who retained their core while adding Sergei Bogoleisha and Yevgeni Kamenev. 

12 – Olaf Bizacki, D, 23, GKS Tychy, (16, +4

Bizacki receives his last ranking on the list as he turns 23. It’s fun to see players develop over time, and Bizacki has been on junior national teams since I started covering prospects. He made his first U18 team during the 2016 season and his first national team appearance during the 2021 season. He crushed it at every level he played, with the PHL and national team included in that. 

Bizacki goal vs. Lithuania

While he may be considered an undersized defender at 5’7 he never plays like it. Bizacki is a solid two-way player, and I’m impressed with his production numbers, given he primarily used on the 4th line in Tychy. While he didn’t set a new high in regular-season points this year, he improved his point per game to a .26. In total, he recorded ten points (1G-9A-10PTS) in 45 games. He is a fixture on the team for sure, with Tychy having involved the young defender in a leadership role at times. 

He competed for team Poland at the Baltic Seas Cup on the national team. There Bizacki picked up a goal and three assists in three games. This included a goal and two assist performances against Lithuania. His three-point night earned him player of the game honors as awarded by the team captain’s Grzegorz Pasiut. As he gets older, it will be interesting to see how much he can move up the GKS Tychy lineup, as right now, that may be the only thing keeping him from higher production seasons. 

11 – Krzysztof Bukowski, F, 19, Kloten U20, (21, +10) 

The Swiss junior system is unknown territory for Polish players. There has only ever been one Pole to reach the top level of junior hockey in the country, Krzysztof Bukowski. The Pole, with a Swiss player license, made it to the top level for Kloten U20. Making it to a league of this magnitude is an outstanding achievement for any young Pole. 

It was not just making it there, as Bukowski proved he belongs with 19 points (7G-12A-19PTS) in 40 games. This was tied for 31st among all skaters in their draft plus one season. Given the prominent league, we have over 120 player comparables for him. The bad news is his current stat line does not suggest he will become a player in Switzerland’s National League or a comparable top league in Europe. Only 4.7% of his player matches went on to play at least 50 games in the National League. On the bright side, 24.2% of his matches played in a top or mid-level league around Europe (Swiss League, Extaliga). That is pretty good odds. Even if most of his comparables ended up below the top two leagues of Switzerland, his brother Jakub Bukowski seems to be translating well to the PHL from Switzerland’s fourth league. 

Bukowski appears to have a strong shot at making it outside of Poland. But even if he returns to Poland, he would easily slide into a top 6 role in the PHL. For the 2022 season, the 5’11 forward will be moving to Genève-Servette U20, another small move up the Swiss hockey ladder as Genève-Servette is a slightly more distinguished club. We will also get to see him at the U20 world championships, where he should be a key contributor on team Poland’s offense.

Players 10-8

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Breaking Down Poland’s U20 Team and Predictions

It feels so good to be back to our regularly scheduled IIHF events. While the Olympic Qualifiers were a load of fun. It feels nice to be back in the routine of seeing the IIHF tournament that we have grown accustomed to on our calendar, not just the ones that take place every four years. The first non-Olympic qualifying event for the red and white will be the Men’s U20 team traveling to Estonia to take on Estonia, France, Japan, Slovenia, and Ukraine from December 12th to the 18th.

The Men’s U20 squad plays in Division 1 Group B and has been since being relegated from Group A in 2014. The team won four straight silver medals from 2016 to 2019, often cruelly losing the gold medal… Then in 2020, the team fell to fourth place under returning U20 head coach Piotr Sarnik. Former PHL forward and long-time Polish development coach Artur Ślusarczyk will be taking his first shot at the U20 team. He was previously an assistant coach on the U18 squad that won promotion and a gold medal in 2019. Arkadiusz Burnat, Bartlomiej Nowak, and Tomasz Demkowicz will also be joining the staff form that same U18 team. While Marta Zawalska will be serving as the team’s manager.

The coaches are set, and we are only days away from the puck drop on Sunday. Team Poland has named their roster, and now it is time to break it down!

Goalies

Oskar Polak

Mikołaj Szczepkowski

Szymon Klimowski

A few years ago, it felt like Poland really had the goaltending situation figured out, and then a pandemic hit, and we lost what would have been some really lovely tandems. I thought that Filip Płonka would be taking the reigns up next, but it appears he was dropped off the final roster after being named to the initial camp. That makes picking this team’s tandem quite the struggle, as Plonka had the highest PHL SV% at .885% and was perfect in his lone MHL performance. Szczepkowski has preformed the best in the MHL, while Polak and Klimowski both have PHL experience. In the end, Polak currently boasts the best PHL numbers and is the elder of the three, so I’m running with him as the starter. Back up is really too much of a toss-up, but I’ll give it to Szczepkowski and his .920 MHL SV%.

Defensemen

Karol Biłas – Oliwier Kasperek

Bartosz Florczak – Kacper Macias

Michał Jaracz – Michał Proczek

Eryk Schafer

The first big thing that sticks out about this defense is there are no right-handed shots, and they didn’t even bring any right-handed shots to camp. I’m not sure how much impact it makes mathematically, but it is undoubtedly odd. To be fair, the next best available right-handed defensemen would probably have been 17-year-old Oliwier Kurnicki. It is understandable for the team to take a more experienced player. This is still a group with some interesting pieces. Macias has done really well in the top Czech junior league. Biłas is undoubtedly one of the best defensemen developed inside Poland in a long time. Schafer is a player from Torun who is really having a breakout year and played 13 games in the PHL. Oliwier Kasperek is a player Tychy seems really high on and will be the group’s veteran. Not the strongest or weakest group the U20 team has brought, some highlights and concerns.

Forwards

Krzyzstof Macias- Jakub Ślusarczyk – Krzysztof Bukowski

Wiktor Bochnak – Stanislaw Drozd-Niekurzak – Fabian Kapica

Szymon Dobosz – Tobiasz Kapica – Karol Sterbenz

Szymon Maćkowski – Sebastian Wicher – Paweł Wybiral

Dominik Kasprzyk

In my opinion, this line has the potential to be one of the strongest first lines Poland has iced in a while. Macias is absolutely tearing it up in the top level of Czech hockey with the 11th most points by a U18 player. Ślusarczyk’s is also teammates with Macias on HC Vitkovice U20. He has always been a standout player for Poland at junior events. Bukowski is doing well at the top level of Swiss junior hockey and has experience with one of the best clubs in the junior scene there. Lower the down the line up I have a lot of stock in Fabian Kapica, Dzord-Niekurzak, and Sterbenz, who have shown themselves well abroad or in the PHL. Dobosz is an interesting addition; given he has not played anywhere in the 2021 season, it will be interesting to see what shape he and his game are in.

Much like the defense, the team is very right-handed shot-heavy. I am interested in the bottom-six picks. It seems the SMS Katowice connection helped a few players. Adrian Gromadzki, Michal Kusak, Michał, and Nawrocki were all forwards that I thought would be in more significant contention, but given their age, I’m not too surprised. Right-handed Piotr Ciepielewski could also fall into that discussion, but I have no significant problems. The team will need the offense to help suppress shots and scoring chances. I don’t just mean being good defensively, but also keeping the puck controlled and away from their own zone. I have no doubt the top lines will be able to score a couple goals per game, and beat up on weaker defenses. But how will they fare against forward cores that are bigger and faster than them? That was something that made past U20 leaders like Pas and Soltys so valuable.

Conclusion and Predictions

I have some concerns about each position group, but none more than what is in the net. Last time at the U20s, goaltending and defense really let team Poland down. It is hard to assess how good these groups are compared to the prior ones. I think the offense has more depth than some of the past U20 silver medals, but I’m not betting on a better defense or net situation net. I will put my prediction for this group at a bronze medal.

Estonia (Host) – this is a winnable game to me. While they are starting to make a lot of progress and have quite a few players in the Finnish junior leagues, they are the youngest team in the tournament and don’t really have any standout players. Should be an easy win for Poland.

France – The French will still be a formidable opponent but don’t possess the NHL draft caliber players at past tournaments. Still a solid roster, thanks to a good development program. It will be close, but I expect them to be too much for Poland.

Japan – A very uneven team, Japan brings some of the highest highs and lowest lows. They have three players playing the United State’s top junior, the USHL, including 2022 draft prospect Kenta Isogai. Isogai is a former teammate of Karol Sterbenz. Outside that club stats for most of their team are not even available. But if it is close to normal, Japan will score a few goals but ultimately surrender too many to overtake Poland.

Slovenia – Relegated from Group A the last time the U20s were held, Slovenia will be the team to beat. With plenty of great players from around Europe, unless there are some major chemistry issues. It is hard to see them not winning gold and earning promotion.

Ukraine – Now it is time for the wildcard Ukraine, a quickly regrowing program. LA Kings draft pick Artur Cholach will be leading the defensemen. Forward Bohdan Panasenko has put up a point per game average above .50 in the NAHL, and Daniil Trakht and Hlib Tkach have looked good in Finland and Sweden. The Ukraine junior system and league is weaker than Poland, but they have quite a few players in stronger leagues. I think Poland gets the win here, but I would not be surprised if Ukraine beats Poland.

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