Category: Mens Prospects

The One-Line Team. 2022 Division 1 Group B U18 World Championships 5 Thoughts.

We can all wait for some moments. After two years of covid cancellations, the Men’s Senior team finally returned to the Worlds and won gold. Part of me really does believe that the three years it technically took to get back in Group A makes it all the sweeter. Unfortunately for other age levels, two canceled years means players aged out of eligibility and didn’t have a chance to finish what they started. Poland had no returners from their 2019 squad that earned a promotion to Division 1, it was now up to an entirely new roster to try and stay in the division, but could they do it?

Poland quickly saw the reality they faced in game one when offensive powerhouse Ukraine beat them 6-1. Ukraine would score 5 or more goals, including 12 against Austria, against every opponent besides one. Next up was Poland’s eternal hockey rival Hungary, who saw off Poland pretty quickly, 5-2. Hopefully, it would have been more smooth sailing for Poland with the top two teams in the tournament out of the way. In a back and forth contest against Itlay, Poland would fall 8-5 in the best chance to grab points. Poland would close the tournament with a 5-2 loss to Austria and then a 6-1 defeat against Slovenia.

A Rough Week in Net

You saw the scores, so let us address it right away. It was a very rough tournament for Poland’s goaltending, particularly for starting goalie Jakub Ciucka. While there were a couple own goals and some significant defensive lapses at times. This was a rough tournament, and there were some plays where all you can say is “oof’. Ciucka finished with a .820 save percentage, while his backup Maksymilian Kura finished with a .762. sv%. Especially in the game against Italy, Poland could have won. They scored five goals and still lost by three.

Keeping Pace

While Poland was the inferior team in each game. They were not actually as bad as the scores portray. Usually, when you see blowout scores, you also expect a similar disadvantage in the shots. Only in one game was Poland killed in the shot department as they were outshot 45-15 against Austria. Poland outshot Italy 28-27 while losing the shot battle by less than five against Ukraine. They also were tied with Austria in goals for at the tournaments. Poland did their best. It wasn’t enough. As the team improves, I see them staying in Division 1 as a very likely outcome. They mostly looked like they belonged. Not saying I’m expecting them to win a medal yet, but fourth and fifth place finishes should be on the table.

Czech Stars

In 2022, Poland only had 10 players in Czech junior leagues at the U17 level and above. That is down from the 16 that Poland had during the 2021 season. Five of the 2022 players made Poland U18. Of Poland’s top five skaters in points, four of them played in the Czechia junior system. Krzysztof Macias finished first with 7 points (2G-5A-7PTS), Dominik Kolat second with 6 points (4G-2A-6PTS), Michal Kusak was third with 3 points (2G-1A-3PTS), and then tied for fifth was Adrian Gromadzki with 2 points (0G-2A-2PTS). The top line of Kolat, Kusak, and Macias was one of the best lines in the tournament. Even when Kusak was moved down for Gromadzki to join the top line, Kolat and Macias didn’t miss a beat with their Czech junior league counterpart.

Master Macias

I usually don’t want to use two thoughts on one player in an article, but Krzysztof Macias deserves his own closer look. Macias was involved in seven goals on a team that scored 11 total goals. His 7 points were also tied for fifth in the tournament. Given that Hungary and Ukraine scored a combined 49 goals him cracking the top five is significant, in my opinion. The Polish captain also fired off 19 shots, about 20% of Poland’s total shots on goal, and tied for the fourth-most in the tournament. Given he only scored twice on those 19 shots, I believe he got a bit unlucky on his goal amount. Macias proved that he is Poland’s best U18 prospect and maybe even the best U20 prospect. A reminder, his two assists on Poland U20 put him second in scoring and tied for the lead in assists.

The Expected Result. Now What?

I saw some people a bit stunned about the results of the Polish team. Particularly about the result versus Ukraine. Poland’s junior system is inferior and years behind almost all top European countries. Poland is one of only a few countries in Division 1 to not have a fully dedicated U20 league. Ukraine especially has been impressive in its youth development. They even defeated Austria with a score of 12-4. Poland being relegated was the expected result, even if Poland’s performance in their own end didn’t help.

Poland will be relegated to Division 2 Group A next year. Their opponents will be Estonia, Great Britain, Lithuania, Romania, and Croatia. Poland often faces a familiar list of teams in Division 1 at the Senior World Championships. It will not be a cakewalk for the U18 squad, especially as they will be returning only 4 skaters. The good news is two of them are their top defenders in, Blazej Chodor and Karol Sobecki, while Finnish junior league forward Krystian Lisowski will also return. The most significant addition the team will have is goaltender Igor Tyczynski. Tyczynski was very impressive in nine MHL games and had an outstanding performance at recent U16 events.

Quick Thoughts

– Karol Sobecki showed off really well at this tournament. The 16-year-old was easily Poland’s best defender in the five-game showing.

– Another defender I liked was Blazej Chodor. He has ideal size and wasn’t afraid to get physical. But it did put his team in some rough places at times. As he gains more experience, his awareness will improve and he’ll pick better times to step up for the big hit.

– While the team was led mainly by the Czech stars on the offensive end, Paweł Pisula put in a great tournament on the forward side. His two-assist placed him tied for fifth in points.

– In his IIHF coaching debut, I thought Łukasz Sokół put in a good performance. The team stayed competitive, maybe a bit too hesitant to switch goalies at times. Based on how Kura did play in his limited minutes, I can’t blame him for that.

– This tournament will make a significant impact on my rankings for the year, while only five games. These are the five best opponents I will see most players play against all year.

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_.

5 Players to Watch on Poland’s U18 Team

In 2019, the Polish U18 pulled off a perfect performance at the 2019 Division 2 Group A U18 World Championships. The team scored 36 goals while only allowing four in route to an excellent 5-0 record. Unfortunately, after two years in a row of the lower division U18 World Championships being canceled, we never got to see some of the team defend their gold and promotion to Division 1 Group B. It will be an all-new roster for Poland at the U18s, with zero of the squad having any previous U18 IIHF experience.

Poland will face some prominent opponents, as they will match up with the under 18 squads from Austria, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, and Ukraine. It will be an interesting test to see how the Polish U18 program has grown since 2019. Poland did make it back to Division 1 in 2017 but was promptly relegated back to the second division. Now the goal for this team will be to stay in Division 1. This team will be led by former national team member and long-time GKS Tychy forward Łukasz Sokół, making his IIHF head coaching debut. His assistants will be Adam Bagiński, Tomasz Kowalczyk, and Sebastian Owczarek. Bagiński is a current GKS Tychy assistant coach, and long-time player, while Kowalczyk is the former women’s U18 head coach. The well-experienced staff should help these young players compete and potentially catch the eyes of scouts. With that in mind, here are five players to watch at the U18s for Poland.

Adrian Gromadzki

A big scoring winger performing well in the Czech junior system is pretty uncommon for Poland. Gromadzki produced strongly in Poland, so he moved to Germany. He played great in Germany, so he moved to Czechia. He is a player whose stock continues to rise, as he just scores no matter where he goes. His ten points in 29 Czech U20 games is the first time he is not a point per game player in his career. Though he did post 26 points in 20 Czech U20 2 games. I have no doubt Gromadzki should be able to post some big numbers at the IIHF U18s.

Aleks Menc

Menc long looked like Poland’s next top hockey prospect after some ridiculous numbers at the young levels of Polish hockey and representing Poland at the youth Olympics. After some impressive years for his age at the top junior levels of hockey in Poland, Menc moved over to Sweden. Playing in the second level of Swedish U18 hockey, Menc has posted 18 points (12G-6A-18PTS) in 34 games. While not eye-popping numbers, they rank third on his squad. This will be our first chance to see the talented center on the IIHF level.

Blazej Chodor

Chodor has been tearing it up in Poland for a while now, and he does it as a 16-year-old defenseman. He posted the second-most points of all 16-aged players in the MHL while adding eight more points in just 17 games with Poland U16 in the Czechia junior system. It will be great to see the talented offensive defenseman at the U18s and against tough competition. He possesses the size scouts love already at 6’2, and would be my pick for the player to most interest scouts around Europe.

Krystian Lisowski

We don’t see many Polish prospects play in Finland, which is no surprise given how high the level of hockey is in the country. Lisowski has made himself at home in the Finnish junior ranks, scoring 38 points (26G-12A-36PTS) in 44 games with Kiekko-Espoo U18 Ch. Kiekko-Espoo plays in the top level of the Finnish junior ranks, where Lisowski’s point total ranks seventh among 16-year-old skaters. The Sanok native also played one game in the top U20 league, where he scored a goal.

Krzysztof Macias

It is not very often that Poland has two studs in one junior league outside of Poland. Macias has been a force in Czechia while playing most of his junior career there. At only 17-years-old, the Polish winger posted 36 points (14G-22A-36PTS) in 48 games with HC Vitkovice U20. This was tied for 65th among all skaters in the league while being tied for 11th among U18 skaters. It is a similar production range to some members of Czechia U18, who play in the IIHF’s elite division. Macias also has IIHF experience, as he represented Poland at the 2021 U20 World Championships, recording two assists.

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. 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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