Category: Mens Prospects

At Least It Had a Happy Ending? 2022 Men’s U20 Division 1 Group B World Championships 5 Thoughts

Poland lucked into being back in the Division 1 Group B U20 World Championships. By lucked in, I mean that Belarus and Russia invaded Ukraine and were thus suspended from IIHF competition. This meant instead of being relegated to Division 2, Poland was once again at the bottom of Division 1. So now, with a second chance at life, could Poland correct their mistakes and return to the top of the division for a chance at promotion?

Poland started off the tournament with Estonia. The same team that embarrassed Poland last year in overtime in a game they 100% should have won. Estonia came in with a better roster and once again took Poland to overtime. This time though, Poland would prevail victoriously and win 4-3. The next contest was against Ukraine, who Poland had just played in two pre-tournament exhibition games. While in the exhibition games, Poland appeared to be the better team, in IIHF action Ukraine dominated Poland and won 5-2. Poland’s third test with promotion on the line came against Japan. I hate to say it because this is a squad of teenagers, but this game was the worst performance I have ever seen from any Polish IIHF squad at any level, and the score would reflect that with a 7-3 loss. Poland would then lose a deflating game against Italy, taking them out of the race for third place. Italy allowed the most goals in the tournament going into the game, and Poland only found the back of the net once and lost 2-1. Poland needed a win on the tournament’s final day to avoid relegation for a second straight year. They would get more than just a win as they put their foot to the pedal and never took it off, beating South Korea 11-2. Compared to last year, Poland looked better against the teams below them but somehow worse against the teams considered better. It took two teams getting promoted for Poland to stay in Division 1, which is far from ideal.

No Structure + No Displcine = Awful Hockey

Last year I was shocked by the lack of discipline and structure in the U20 squad. I don’t know how it was even worse this year. Poland was doing things that would be not accepted at the U14 level, let alone the U20 level. There are serious issues when it comes to junior coaching in Poland. Polish defenders looked lost on the ice and had no idea how to recover when the slightest things would go wrong. Players would just collide with each other like little kids. It was so frustrating to watch. Let alone the lack of any defensive awareness was Poland just being stupid and letting their emotions get the best of them. Poland took 29 penalties in the tournament, tied for the second most. A lot of these came at crucial times as well. The worst part was with poor defensive play; Poland couldn’t recover from their mistakes and finished with the second worst penalty kill by penalty killing percentage and was tied for first in goals allowed shorthanded. Poland desperately needs to fix these issues. As if this continues, it is a bad sign for the future of the national team and PHL.

Who is Next in Net?

Given everything said in the last part, it should not be surprising that Polish goalies didn’t have the greatest tournament. Mikołaj Szczepkowski was the team’s primary starter, and I believe he had a better tournament than his stats say. He recorded a .883 save percentage in 3.66 games and faced the third most shots in the tournament. There were quite a few goals were there was nothing he could do, as the Polish defense left an opposing forward wide-open. Szymon Klimowski saw limited action in the tournament, starting one game and finishing the game against South Korea. He struggled at times when in, especially with a rough early start versus Ukraine. These were not performances that sparked much hope about the position’s future in Poland.

The Leader

It should be no surprise that Poland’s offensive leader in the tournament was Krzysztof Macias. The Nowy Targ native finished with seven goals and three assists for ten points. His ten points tied for first, with Japan’s Kotaro Murase, for the lead in the tournament. He led all players in goals by two with his seven. He also easily led Poland in the shot department with 25, eight more than the next Polish skater. All of this combined to earn him the best player of team Poland honors as selected by the coaches. While it was impressive, it also came in mainly two games. Against South Korea, Macias scored four goals and assisted on three; he also had a two-goal performance against Estonia. Macias only managed a lone goal against Italy and was held pointless versus Japan and Ukraine. The 18-year-old will still be eligible for Poland next season, and I hope to see his scoring against Estonia and Korea versus Poland’s top opponents.

Klutch Kusak

Patryk Kusak was a forward I did not expect much of in this tournament. He was penciled in on the third line coming in and had not been having the best club season in the top Czech junior level. Kusak blew past my expectations and was one of Poland’s most impactful and hardest-working forwards. He managed the third most points on the team with five (3G-2A-5PTS). This included two goals and one assist against Japan. That three-point performance earned him player of the game honors for Poland. He had a really solid showing for Poland at the tournament, no matter the opponent’s strength.

What is Next?

Poland was tied for the third oldest team at the tournament. 13 players will not be eligible for next year’s squad. They had one of the oldest squads and still came up short. Poland went from four straight silver medals and battling with the likes of France, Norway, and Slovenia for the promotion to fighting to stay in Division 1 against Estonia and South Korea. For Poland to stay in Division 1, they had to beat a team with only two regulation wins in the previous year’s Division 2 tournament. The last three team’s performances are more than concerning for Poland, which paints a grim future for the national team. While there have been some significant forward prospects, goaltending and defense have looked bare. Poland can either get a new coach to coach up the talent, or they need to revamp the junior system to bring up the talent level as a whole.

Quick Hits

  • Defensemen Kacper Macias served as captain and was Poland’s best defender in the tournament and second-leading scorer. He recorded an impressive seven assists at the tournament. Five of the assists came in the match against South Korea, where he earned player of the game honors.
  • The Super Macias Brothers, Kacper and Krzysztof Macias, were first and second on team Poland in scoring. The elder brother often assisting on his younger brother’s goals
  • Kurnicki would be my pick for Poland’s second-best defender. He stood out on quite a few penalty kill shifts, where he was not afraid to put his body on the line.
  • Adrian Gromadzki had a solid tournament and is another player that will be a key player next year.

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Polish Men’s U20: Preview, Roster Breakdown, and Predictions

The 2023 IIHF international season will kick off for Poland as they host the U20 Division 1 Group B World Championships in Bytom. Poland will be competing in their group for the ninth straight season. They are only competing in Group B for a ninth straight year as Belarus and Russia were suspended from IIHF play for the 2023 season. Their suspensions resulted in Poland staying in the group despite being relegated last year. So what happened last year, and can this team avoid the same pitfall?

2022 was a tournament ground for sounding alarms that Polish junior hockey might be in deep trouble. Poland lost all five games they played, including blowout defeats to France and Japan, while also getting embarrassed late and beaten in overtime by Estonia. Both Poland’s offense and goaltending were non-existent in the tournament. Poland also showed an incredibly undisciplined brand of hockey that saw them average a period per game shorthanded. The performance left me calling for jobs and significant lineup changes. Player wise we will see a lot of changes this year, but the staff remains the same.

The Staff 

SMS PZHL Katowice coach Artur Ślusarczyk remains behind the bench as head coach for the Polish U20 squad. This will be his second IIHF tournament for Poland as a head coach. Along with leading the U20 team last year, Ślusarczyk was an assistant coach for the men’s senior team at the Division 1 Group B World Championships, where the team won gold and promotion. He was also a part of the Polish staff that won gold and promotion with the U18 team in division two. I hope to see a much better performance from his roster this time around. 

Arkadiusz Burnat and Bartłomiej Nowak will return as assistant coaches, Nowak liking serving as the goaltending coach. Both served with Ślusarczyk on Poland U18 but are still very young in their coaching careers. Nowak briefly served as goaltending coach with GKS Katowice in 2022 but was relieved of his duties three months into the year. Burnat previously worked as a player coach with UKH Debica in the second league. Marta Zawalska will once again serve as team manager. It will be her fifth time in the role for Poland IIHF teams.

Goalies 

Poland brought in four goalies to camp this year. Mikołaj Szczepkowski is the only goalie returning from last year’s team. He had some highlights against Slovenia but struggled greatly at times. He has spent the entire season in the MHL with UKS Zaglebie Sosnowiec posting a .888 SV%. He did start one of Poland’s pre-tournament games against Ukraine, stopping 33 shots and allowing two goals in the 4-2 win. I expect him to be the main starter for Poland at the tournament. 

The starter for Poland’s other friendly match was Szymon Klimowski. In the pre-tournament match, Klimowski stopped 30 shots in a 2-1 loss. This year he played in four matches for Podhale Nowy Targ, posting a .863 SV%, which is up from his numbers in seven games last year. He also owns a .852 SV% in 7 MHL games. I expect him to splint starts with Szczepkowski. 

Filip Wiszyński and Tomasz Grobelkiewicz also attended camp but only served as backups against Ukraine. To me, that was the sign of who Poland will take as their goalies for their tournament. I thought Grobelkiewicz would grab the starting spot this year. He has the best stats in the MHL with a .902 SV% in 9 games for Polonia Bytom. He was also great last year for SMS PZHL Katowice. Plus, if you’re a goalie-size person, he is the tallest goalie by two inches. Wiszyński also had a solid season with UKS Niedzwiadki Sanok, posting a .897 SV% in 9 games.. A really tough choice for Poland, with all goalies being in their final year of eligibility.

Defensemen 

The defense comes in with ten skaters, so I expect three cuts from the group. Only two players will be returning from last year. Kacper Maciaś is going to be the defensive leader on this team. The 19-year-old will be making his final appearance for the U20 squad and has played in 22 PHL games this year with GKS Katowice. Young promising defenseman Eryk Schafer will also be returning. At only 18, Schafer will already play in his second U20 IIHF tournament. He was a ball of energy last year, and I’m excited to see how he has developed.

The remaining eight can be split into the 19-year-olds and the young players looking to make their mark early. Outside of the two returning locks, Marlon Wróbel seems like a lock to make it. Wróbel played in 15 games this year in the PHL with STS Sanok. He also has 12 points (1-11-12) in 15 MHL games. He spent both games against Ukraine on the top pairing with Kacper Maciaś. Jakub Wilk, Jan Stępień, & Szymon Gurzyński from Polonia Bytom are all trying to make the squad in their final year of eligibility as well. Stępień and Wilk seem likely to make the team as Poland’s third defensive pairing, as they played in the spot in both games against Ukraine. Both have been a steady presence for Bytom this year, with Wilk leading defensemen in points on the team. Gurzyński appeared in only one friendly game and took two minor penalties on the fourth pairing. 

In the group of young players, Oliwier Kurnicki has cemented himself on the second pairing with Torun teammate Eryk Schafer. Kurnicki scored against Ukraine in Poland’s 4-2 win in their first exhibition match. He has had a great club season with two assists in 15 PHL games on KH Torun, along with 14 points in 15 games at the MHL level. Karol Sobecki is someone I thought would challenge to make the roster at 17 like Schafer did last year. Sobecki has appeared in 12 games for GKS Tychy, along with scoring twice in nine MHL games. He would be my pick for the seventh defenseman. Blazej Chodor also had his shot at making the team. The 17-year-old has a lot of potential, but I’m not sure if he will be ready this year for the U20 squad. Kacper Łukawski has an outside chance at grabbing the final spot on the team, given his familiarity with head coach Ślusarczyk. Chodor, Sobecki, and Łukawski only appeared in one game in the fourth pairing during friendly matches. It seems Poland came in pretty set with their defense. 

Forwards 

The biggest thing about the offense is Krzysztof Macias. Not since Alan Łyszczarczyk has Poland had such an all-star player in their squad, and Macias might even be better. This year already, he has made his debut with the senior national team and at the top level of hockey in Czechia. Macias might be the best prospect to come out of Poland in the past decade. Poland will no doubt be hoping he can carry this team to gold. 

He won’t be alone in that quest, as Poland has a decent supporting cast. Poland brought 15 forwards to camp, and about eight players seem to have their spots secured. Still expect two cuts from this group. On the top line, he is likely to be joined by Jakub Ślusarczyk, his teammate at HC Vitkovice U20. Ślusarczyk has been one of Poland’s best performers on the international stage and is starting to prove himself on the club level in Czechia. They will not be the only players from the Czech U20 league as Adrian Gromadzki (HC Dynamo Pardubice U20), Aleks Menc (HC Karlovy Vary U20), Michał Kusak (HC Karlovy Vary U20), and Patryk Kusak (HC Olomouc U20) have all likely locked their place on the roster. Six forwards in Czechia’s top U20 level is a rare sight for Poland and will give them some solid options up and down the lineup. 

Outside Poland’s junior prospects in Czechia, Karol Sterbenz and Szymon Maćkowski have locked spots. Sterbenz plays for HK Poprad U20 in Slovakia’s top U20 league and has seen a decent production increase compared to last season. He spent both exhibition games on the top line with Macias and Ślusarczyk. Szymon Maćkowski made it to the PHL this year and has two goals and two assists with KH Torun in 17 games. That leads all U20 skaters in the PHL by two points. Paweł Wybiral should also be safe, given he is returning from last year’s team, where he recorded a goal and assist in five games. 

This leaves six players for the four remaining spots, who will be the fourth line and the extra skater. Arkadiusz Karasiński, David Wawrzkiewicz, Filip Sienkiewicz, Marcin Dulęba, Mikołaj Kociszewski, and Piotr Ciepielewski. Only one of the players from this group played in both exhibition games against Ukraine, which seemed to set the lineup for the tournament, especially in the top six and on defense. Arkadiusz Karasiński playing in both games makes me think he is safe, and I would be very happy to see the Lodz hockey product make it. Mikołaj Kociszewski has experience with the head coach and has been a top scorer in the MHL. Piotr Ciepielewski has PHL experience and substantial MHL numbers. Filip Sienkiewicz spent most of his year in the PHL with one goal in 18 games. David Wawrzkiewicz plays in the USA in the USPHL Premier, a league in which quite a few opponents also have players from. Marcin Dulęba is one of the best playmakers in the MHL and records some of the best U20 assist numbers in the league. You can argue for each player to appear on the final line. 

Projected Lineup

Krzysztof Macias – Karol Sterbenz – Jakub Ślusarczyk

Aleks Menc – Adrian Gromadzki – Michał Kusak

Patryk Kusak – Szymon Maćkowski – Paweł Wybiral

Mikołaj Kociszewski – Piotr Ciepielewski – Arkadiusz Karasiński

Filip Sienkiewicz

Kacper Maciaś – Marlon Wróbel

Eryk Schafer – Oliwier Kurnicki

Jakub Wilk – Jan Stępień

Karol Sobecki

Mikołaj Szczepkowski

Szymon Klimowski

Can this lineup compete better than last year in the group? It is hard to say; I feel very shaky about the goaltending with how they played last year. The defensive group should have a lot more chemistry this season, thanks to players that already play on the same paring in their club seasons. Still, it is not the best group Poland has ever taken to this tournament and has never really been the vital part. Offensively there is a lot of talent in this group, but its key players are also very young. Still another group that knows each other well, and that should help with chemistry. I overall feel better about this team thanks to the true star power it might have at the top. If the offense falters like last year, I don’t think the defense can recover. 

Predictions 

Poland will start the tournament on Sunday, Dec. 11, vs. Estonia. Estonia survived relegation last year by beating Poland in overtime. The goaltending on this team looks unknown, and together have played four total club games in 2022-23. Klaus Kaspar Jõgi will lead the team offensively, and he plays in the second level of US junior hockey, the NAHL. Deniss Kontseus and Nikita Stepanov, who play with Krefelder EV 1981 U20 (DNLU20), should also be considered scoring threats. Marek Potšinok is also doing well in the top level of Finnish junior hockey. A young potent offense will be scary, but they have questions on the defensive end and in the net. Estonia is much like Poland. Still, I like what I see here for Poland, and I predict a win. 

Poland’s second game will be on Monday, Dec. 12, vs. Ukraine. It is great to see Ukraine at this tournament. We also know how this match should go based on Poland’s pre-tournament matches. I like Poland’s chances as long as the offense can capitalize. I predict a second Poland win. 

Poland’s third game will be taking on Japan on Wednesday, Dec. 14.  Games vs. Japan are always hard to tell, given the lack of information about the junior level in the country. Still, they will have five players coming to the team that played in US junior leagues last year. The top name to watch is Yusaku Ando, who finished with nine points in five games last year. Japan only lost one of their top scorers from last year, while 6’5 goalie Ryuto Nakamoto will be joining this year after an impressive start to his USPHL season. I don’t see Poland finding a way to win this one. The Japan offense was too strong last year and only came back more experienced. 

Poland’s fourth contest will come against Italy on Friday, Dec 16. Poland will face off with likely the best player in the tournament, Tommy Purdeller, who currently plays in the Ontario Hockey League for the Peterborough Petes. Damian Clara should be a force in the net, possibly as well for the Italians. There are a lot of big names in big leagues on this squad, but a lack of depth. I don’t think Poland will be able to stop their rise. There is just too much talent and experience for Poland to overcome. 

Poland’s last match will be on Saturday, Dec 17, vs. South Korea. South Korea is the true wildcard of this tournament, as like Japan, there is little information about their team. They were promoted to Division 1 Group B due to the Belarus and Russia suspensions. The team looks to be hurting due to players aging out. South Korea will lose all five top scorers from last year, along with their starting goalie. I will give Poland a win here, but it is hard to say until the tournament begins. 

Final Record: 3-2. Good for Bronze

Conclusion 

After a disastrous tournament last year, I do see Poland getting on track, but that is more due to the drop in talent for the division than it is the change in the team. Poland is lucky to be back in Division 1 Group B and can’t waste a golden opportunity to possibly get a promotion or at least stay in the group. Maybe there is a chance that Macias can carry Poland to gold with his strong offensive supporting cast, but it is just as likely that this young Polish team crumbles to their opponent’s star players like last year.

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2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. Stats and Notes

The Men’s top 80 list has officially concluded for the year. It is now time to look at just some random notes for the list, like which team had the most players or which player had the highest rise. This year’s goal was to give more credit to goaltenders again, but it is hard to rank them in Poland, given the sparse opportunities available for them. Still, they almost tied defensemen in representation on the list. The defensive group will likely be the next position group I evaluate and change how I rank.

All Articles

Players 80-51Players 30-21Players 10-8Player 3
Players 50-41Players 20-16Players 7-6Player 2
Players 40-31Players 15-11Players 5-4Player 1

Entire Top 80 Board

Biggest Risers

  1. Blazej Chodor +42
  2. Michał Kusak +39
  3. Krzyzstof Macias +33
  4. Jakub Ślusarczyk +29
  5. Oliwier Kasperek +28

Biggest Drops

  1. Jakub Blanik -22
  2. Kacper Gruzla -21
  3. Marcel Kotula & Michal Cychowski -19
  4. Bartosz Florczak -18
  5. Jakub Wenker -16

Highest List Debuts

  1. Eryk Schafer (23)
  2. Dominik Kolat (24)
  3. Krystian Lisowski (33)
  4. Kacper Macias (40)
  5. Filip Sienkiewicz (42)

Player I Wish I Ranked Higher

Michał Proczek – Really solid defenseman, and the more I reviewed film and statistics on players above him the more I thought I made a mistake in rating him so low.

Player I Wish Ranked Lower

Szymon Bieniek – The player I have the least amount of film on over the past three years. But he is one that coaches love and statistics favor. Those big stats often come at lower US junior levels. His offseason ending with him signing in Division 3 of Sweden is not really inspiring.

Filip Plonka – Still a lot to love in him as a goalie. Just other goalies had better years and better numbers. The limited amount of games is going to potentially really hurt long-term development.

Players By Team

Players By Position

County By Country

Notes

  • Every year the player ranked #2 has been different and featured 4 different players.
  • With only one player, this is the least amount of JKH GKS Jastrzebie players on the list.
  • The highest amount of players playing in Sweden to be ranked.
  • The lowest amount of players playing in Germany to be ranked.
  • The highest amount of goalies to be ranked.
  • The lowest amount of forwards to be ranked.
  • Defensemen are up 3 versus last year.

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2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. #1

There have only been three players in my rankings to grace the number 1 spot. Wiktoria Sikorska has always held the women’s number 1 spot, while Alan Łyszczarczyk and Paweł Zygmunt finished first on the men’s side. This year that number will remain the same as Zygmunt has retained his top spot. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16 years old on June 1st, 2022. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.

Players 80-51Players 30-21Players 10-8Player 3
Players 50-41Players 20-16Players 7-6Player 2
Players 40-31Players 15-11Players 5-4

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

1 – Paweł Zygmunt (F), 23, HC Litvínov, (1, 0) 

Paweł Zygmunt continues to slowly evolve his game and carve out a more permanent role in the HC Litvinov lineup. It seems he and the team are committed to his future in Czechia. Zygmunt has taken to the Extraliga much quicker than expected, and the results are strong. He has quickly found himself in a middle-six forward role contributing to the penalty kill. The offensive numbers are not jumping off the page yet, but he is driving a lot of chances. 

This year in 45 games, he posted seven goals and two assists. The seven goals are a new career high for him during the Tipsport Extraliga regular season. They were all scored at even strength putting him fifth on his team for even strength goals. It was also tied for twelfth in even-strength goals among U23 skaters. His nine points were 30th among the same age group.

Thanks to hokej.cz, we can take a closer look at this game and how he grades out as a player. Individually Zygmunt generated a lot of chances, and his 3.70 chances per 60 were fifth on HC Litvínov and 20th among U24 skaters. With only an average TOI of 11:31 per game and just over a minute and a half, that came on the penalty kill. Zygmunt found a way to maximize his offensive ability in limited minutes this season. With 98 shots attempts, he placed 23rd among U24 skaters. 

Zygmunt Goal vs. Estonia IIHF Senior D1B

He is finding his way defensively as well. Over the last two seasons, he played a crucial part in the team’s penalty kill, which is great to see him trusted with a role like that so quickly. He finished seventh among U24 skaters in Corsi For Percent with 53.5%. His shots against per 60 were also the fourth lowest on his team. By all accounts, Zygmunt is finding his way, and the team invested in his future, which paid off for them. 

Take his size and early success, and I have no doubt we will see him in the Extraliga for a long time to come. Looking at production matches for a player three seasons into a professional league can be a bit redundant, as we already see they have played almost enough games for a long career. That is exactly what his production matches show, with 93.9% playing in 200 Extraliga games. What I enjoy seeing, though, is if players can step up to a stronger league. We see 2% of his matches playing at least 50 NHL games and 12.2% playing 50 games in a top European league like the KHL or SHL. 

Zygmunt was a key contributor to the Polish national team. He represented the senior team at three events. He posted 7 points (4G-3A-7PTS) at the Baltic Challenge Cup and another 3 points (1G-2A-3PTS) at the senior World Championships. He also represented Poland in the final round of Olympic Qualification. 

Zygmunt has cemented himself as a good player outside of Poland in stronger leagues. He is already one of the leaders of the national team, all at just 22 years old. It is incredible how fast he blew up and the leaps he took professionally. Seeing how far he goes in the Extraliga and his peak will be exciting.

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_. Also, support us on Patreon to help keep the content flowing!

2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. #2

We are now at the second spot in our rankings. Splitting the players ranked 1 and 2 was challenging as both had successful seasons outside of Poland. While our number two player is not taking the top spot this season, I think it will be hard for him not to have it locked down next year. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16 years old on June 1st, 2022. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.

Players 80-51Players 30-21Players 10-8Player 3
Players 50-41Players 20-16Players 7-6
Players 40-31Players 15-11Players 5-4

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

2 – Kamil Wałęga (F), 22, HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas, (5, +3

This offseason saw many Polish players take significant steps outside of Poland. Three players took a chance and trained together, working out for numerous teams in Czechia and Slovakia. Jan Soltys never made a club and returned to Poland. Dominik Pas made AZ Havířov in the Chance Liga but would return to Poland just before the end of the year. The third player was Kamil Wałęga who made HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas in the top level of Slovak hockey, the Tipos Extraliga. He made the team and never returned to Poland. We won’t likely see him in the PHL soon either, as after the season ended, he signed a two-year extension with the Slovak club. 

Wałęga was a player that I consistently had ranked decently high, but I did at times lose him in the shadow of some bigger JKH GKS Jastrzebie prospects like his two teammates he trained with during the offseason. In the end, Wałęga’s growth as a complete player has been undeniable, and he has proved to be a player that is going to be a critical member of teams outside of Poland. 

In his rookie year in the Tipos Extraliga, he posted 18 points (11G-7A-18PTS) in 44 games. This put him tenth in all scoring among U23 players. He also led all 21-year-old skaters in points. Twelve of his points came at even strength, while he contributed six on the powerplay. He also fired off 111 shots, the sixth-most by a U23 player. He even took home player of the month honors from his club in December. Overall, a very impressive season on the boxscore for a young player transitioning to Slovakia from the PHL. 

There were a few areas this season that I’m sure the club will hope to see some improvement from, but the club’s GM was always very complimentary of the young Pole, and they gave him a two-year extension. The first area is consistency. He started the year with just 6 points in 20 games, but after December hit, he would finish the regular season with 11 in 19 games. But he finished the year with just 1 goal in five games during relegation. The second part comes down to your school of thought on hockey and how much you value it, but Wałęga got a lot of reps at center and took over 300 faceoffs. His faceoff win percentage was a poor 41.1%. Only one player in the league that took at least 100 faceoffs had a worse win percentage. Both can be fixable and partly be blamed on that transition from PHL to Tipos Extraliga and an early minor injury. 

He was a highlight for the national team as part of Kalaber’s youth movement. While he only played one game in the Olympic qualifiers after suffering an injury. He was Poland’s best player at the Baltic Challenge Cup, where he recorded 9 points (2G-7A-9PTS) in 3 games. He topped off his national team season with two goals and an assist in four games at the World Championships. He is another young player who instantly cemented himself as one of the top national team forwards at just 21 years old. 

When we look at his production matches for his club season, 100% of his matches went on to play a couple of hundred games in the Tipos Extraliga or appear in a stronger league. It is not a one-hit-wonder b any means. 25% of his matches went on to play 50 games in a top European league like the KHL or a second-tier league like Czechia’s Tipsport Extraliga. Kamil Wałęga’s floor seems to be a middle-six forward in the Tipos Extraliga, which Poland needs. His ceiling could be similar to Aron Chmiewlski in Czechia. Either way, he is a lock to be an essential part of team Poland for a while.

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_. Also, support us on Patreon to help keep the content flowing!

2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. #3

We are now in the top 3. Our player at three shared a lot of similarities to the players ranked fifth and fourth. He was able to push past his setback for a better second half. He is also our highest-ranked player to play in Poland this year. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16 years old on June 1st, 2022. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.

Players 80-51Players 30-21Players 10-8
Players 50-41Players 20-16Players 7-6
Players 40-31Players 15-11Players 5-4

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

3 – Dominik Paś (F), 23, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (4, +1) 

Pas is one of the players I have consistently ranked high since I started covering Polish hockey. In his final ranking before aging off, he comes in at 3. Paś went abroad this season for the first time in his career, and it is something that I was hoping would happen for a while. He signed with AZ Havířov in the Chance Liga, the second level of Czech hockey. It was an excellent place for him to start, and I was excited to hopefully see a strong year garner interest from a team at the top level. 

That didn’t happen. Pas scored only two goals and assisted on four in 21 games. He fired 24 shots and was on the ice for an average of 13:48 a game. It was not a star-making performance, and he would return to Poland just before Christmas. Another one of the top five players that lost their spot after just half a season. At that point, when I did my mid-season look, I thought Pas was squarely number five with a strong chance that Bukowski or Macias could be ranked over him. His return to the PHL with JKH GKS Jastrzebie needed to be strong to keep his spot. 

It was not just a solid return to Poland but an electrifying one. The 5’10 forward put up 22 points (10G-12A-22PTS) in 29 games, with 15 of those points coming in 15 playoff games. Despite the late start, he finished fourth for scoring among all U23 skaters and second among Polish U23 skaters. He instantly returned to being one of Poland’s most explosive two-way forwards. While the PHL performance was outstanding, what set his second half over the edge was his play at the Division 1 Group B World Championships. 

This play right there. It shows why Pas is one of the most complete players in Poland. He finished with four points in four games, which included three goals. He was so amazing to watch in the tournament, and he sometimes felt like the best player on team Poland.

His performance was so strong that after the season, he attracted offers from not just all over Poland but even clubs abroad, wanting to see if he would take another chance at playing outside of his home country. Ultimately, he re-signed with JKH GKS Jastrzebie on a one-year agreement. I don’t know if Pas will ever be a great player outside of Poland, but I do know that he will be one of the highlights of the national team for years to come. He is the kind of player that can take the team to the next level regardless of where he plays in his club season.

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2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. #5-4

We are in the top five of the rankings. These five players all found themselves in the top five last year. Despite a solid push by the two players ranked seventh and sixth, I always knew these five would be at the top again. The only hard part was going to be figuring out where they ranked amongst themselves. By the end of the year, it became easy to separate the five, in my opinion.  

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16 years old on June 1st, 2022. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.

Players 80-51Players 30-21Players 10-8
Players 50-41Players 20-16Players 7-6
Players 40-31Players 15-11

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

5 – Jakub Lewandowski (F), 21, Bemidji State University, (3, -2

Jakub Lewandowski made his NCAA debut this year for Bemidji State University. He is only the third Polish player to appear at the world’s top level of college hockey. That on its own is an impressive feat, it is another level you don’t expect to see any Polish players appear at. The NCAA also leads to fantastic opportunities for professional chances. Just this offseason, four of Lewandowski’s teammates made some big moves by signing deals in the AHL, ECHL, and Tipos Extraliga. 

For his rookie year, Lewandowski posted two goals and two assists in 19 games while also recording 17 shots and eight blocked shots. His .22 point per game average was 83rd among 20-year-old forwards, it is not uncommon for some pretty low point totals in freshman years. He also did have all four of his points in his first ten games before ending on a 9-game pointless streak. Many first-year students don’t see the ice at all, so I was happy to see him make an impact to begin the year, but he may have been phased out of the lineup after that pointless streak. 

Lewandowski Goal vs. Lake Superior State University NCAA

Of his production matches, 14.3% have gone on to play 50 NHL games, while the most common outcome was an ECHL career with 42.9% of matches. Lewandowski’s most significant asset for the next level is his size. His skating is only considered average by many scouts I have talked to, and that will be the key sticking point to how far he exceeds in North American hockey. Size and skating could take him far if he continues to improve his skating. We see that in his production matches, who don’t have eye-popping stats but still have strong North American careers. His work ethic and leadership abilities are other things you will see mentioned a lot by coaches and scouts. He made the CCHA All-Academic Team for 2022 as well. 

He only turns 21 next year and will be returning to Bemidji. With many big forwards leaving, including seven of the team’s top ten scorers, there should be plenty of opportunities. The big thing will be earning and succeeding in those new opportunities. Consistency issues have been brought up in his past two seasons in the US. I think Lewandowski is at least a guaranteed lock to be a top forward in Poland, which is a good floor. The ceiling will be easier to determine with how his sophomore year goes. 

4 – Damian Tyczyński (F), 22, HK Spisska Nova Ves, (2, -2)

What made the separation of the top five easier was something that Lewandowski and Tyczyński both suffered in losing their spot. Tyczyński had been a highlight of HK Spisska Nova Ves in the second Slovak league last year. When the team earned a promotion to the Tipos Extraliga, they brought their young Polish playmaker with them. Unfortunately, during the year, it seems that he and new head coach Miroslav Mosnár were not always on the same page. He left the team in late December after he continued to fall down the lineup, and it appeared to be a pretty unpopular decision among fans. 

Richard Rapac, the team general manager, released a statement following his release. 

“Unfortunately, Damian was falling out of the lineup in recent matches and there was not long-term satisfaction with his game. Nevertheless, he got the opportunity to fight for his position in the team from the coaching staff. He decided not to take this opportunity, which I personally feel very sorry about. We tried to send Damian to another extra league team, but no one was not interested in his services. In the end, we decided to release him to the first league Dubnica. I wish “Tyčko” only the best in his new place, especially a lot of health. On behalf of the entire club and fans, I thank him for his services and his large parge in the promotion to the Extraliga. The door is open in the future.“

From what I gather, the team was not satisfied with his slow adjustment to the top league in the defensive end. Offensively, while it was not his production in the second league, he was showing well. He posted 15 points (4G-11A-15PTS) in 25 games. That was still good for tenth in points among skaters on HK Spisska Nova Ves to end the year, despite Tyczyński playing 10 to 20 fewer regular-season games. Maybe the release was the wrong choice, as they also fell in the standings from fifth to seventh. 

Damian Tyczyński Shootout goal vs HK Nitra Tipos Extraliga

15 points in 25 games is good production for a forward in their 21-year-old season. His .60 points per game were seventh among all U23 players, while the 15 points were 10th among the same group. So it is no surprise that 100% of his matches have gone on to play 250 games or more in the Tipos Extraliga or a stronger league. 12.5 percent of his matches went on to play in a top European league like the KHL or SHL. At the same time, 38% went to play in a mid-euro level league or stronger. Of course, that defensive play will be the largest factor to him advancing, and it seems earlier in the year, no other Tipos Extraliga was interested in taking him on. 

I could end the report there, and his 25 games in the top of Slovakia would have been enough to warrant his spot at 4. He didn’t just end his year after being released. He represented Poland at the Baltic Challenge Cup, recording a goal and two assists in three games. He also went back to the second Slovak league with HK Spartak Dubnica. There he posted 28 points (6G-22A-28PTS) in 26 games. His 1.08 point per game average was 11th among all skaters in the league and was second among all U23 players. 71.4% of his production matches there, also have had Tipos Extraliga careers of at least 100 games. 

Undoubtedly, he will work his way back to the top league or in another top league around Europe. His drive and determination will continue to open doors for the talented playmaker. For 2023, he has signed a deal in the second level of Slovakia, with an option that automatically converts if the club gets promoted. He is another player where his floor is a PHL star.

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2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. #7-6

Now to the final two that just missed out on the top five. These two players had insane breakout seasons and are two of the biggest risers in my rankings. One took a second giant jump after being the biggest riser in 2021. The top five players were all established before this season, and I didn’t expect anyone to disrupt the top five. These two forwards came very close to making the top five with historical seasons. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 1st, 2022. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.

Players 80-51Players 30-21Players 10-8
Players 50-41Players 20-16
Players 40-31Players 15-11

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

7 – Jakub Bukowski (F), 22, STS Sanok (25, +18)

The elder Bukowski brother had an excellent PHL rookie year in 2021. He had 11 points in 36 games, which was considered a pleasant surprise. Jakub Bukowski had a weird junior career and mostly played in the second level of the Czechia junior system, then spent a year in the third level of Switzerland. That background is not one that usually suggests a solid professional career. So the rookie year was a good surprise and suggested he may be able to play a middle-six role in the PHL. 

Instead, Bukowski proved he might be one of the best goal scorers in the PHL. In 45 games this season, he scored 29 goals and assisted on 15. He led the regular season in goals with 27. Even in overall totals, he still finished third despite Sanok being eliminated in round one of the playoffs. His 27 goals are the most in the regular season since Krystian Dziubinski scored 28 in 2020, and it is tied for the 27th most goals in the regular season since 2010. 

This was a fantastic year for a PHL player, regardless of age. But remember, Bukowski was only 21 this season. He led all U23 skaters in goals by five and all Polish U23 skaters in goals by 19. His 44 points also led all U23 skaters. His 29 total goals are the most by a U23 player since Damian Kapica scored 31 as a 22-year-old in 2015. His goal total is also tied for the second-most by a 21-year-old, and his 44 points make it the sixth-best season ever in the PHL by a 21-year-old. 

Alright, that is enough posting numbers on how historical his season was. Bukowski was just unstoppable this year. I have no idea if it is sustainable, but he battled hard and earned every goal. Bukowski was rewarded with his first senior team appearances, representing Poland at the Baltic Challenge Cup, recording one goal and three assists in four games. He also made his IIHF debut playing for Poland at the Division 1 Group B World Championships. The dominant season resulted in him making the jump to GKS Tychy this offseason. He will have to reprove himself in a very loaded offense. 

6 – Krzysztof Macias (F), 18, HC Vitkovice U20, (39, +33

When Alan Lyszczarczyk finished atop the Cezch U18 league and became an NHL draft prospect after a strong rookie year in the OHL, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment for Polish hockey. Then only a few years later, Jakub Lewandowski dominated in Czechia, moved over to the USHL, and was ranked in the pre-season as a draft prospect. Again it felt like such a rare moment for Polish hockey. This year, Krzysztof Maciaś posted a strong year in the top Czech U20 league, and I believe he just missed out on that NHL draft prospect status. 

So why did Macias miss out? The 17-year-old forward had a great year at Czechia’s top level of junior hockey. He finished with 14 goals and 22 assists in 48 games. Among players in their draft-eligible season, his 36 points were tied for 17th in the league. His season was not always consistent though. 

Graph showing Macias points per date.

After a strong start, he had an awful December and January and a nine-game pointless streak during the months. If you take his poor stretch out from December 3rd to January 25th, he instead finishes with a .94 point per game average instead of a .75. That inconsistency at times and final number cost him. 

Macias also represented Poland at both the IIHF U18 and U20 World Championships. At the U20 World Championships, he was one of Poland’s best forwards at only 17. In five games, the left winger assisted on two goals. At the U18s, he was a different animal and put in what has to be one of Poland’s best performances in U18 history. He put the team on his back, forming an electric line with Kolat and Kusak. He scored two goals and assisted on five. The U18 captained was involved in seven goals on a team that scored only 11 the entire tournament. He was among the best forwards at the event regardless of country. 

Macias Goal vs. Italy IIHF D1B U18s
Macias Goal vs. Italy IIHF D1B U18s

That idea of Macias being an NHL prospect is a dream he is chasing and will sacrifice for. In an interview with hokej.cz, he talked about his idol Alan Lyszczarzyk. “He’s from my town. I followed him even when I was still in Poland. I went to his matches. He has an interesting career path and I think he will go far.” When asked about other professionals like Aron Chmiewlewski, he replied, “respect to him and others, because they are really excellent hockey players. But as I said, the greatest inspiration for me is Alan’s journey.” Łyszczarczyk went from Czechia to Canada’s top junior league and then a professional in the ECHL and Czechia.

I feel Macias has a solid chance to duplicate that journey and become a strong professional in leagues better than Poland. It feels almost wrong having Macias this low on the rankings, as he was easily the Polish junior player of the year, in my opinion. He is returning to the Czechia U20 league next year, but I hope to see him earn some chances at the pro level. If he improves on his Czechia U20 season and gets those small professional chances, I could see that NHL prospect door opening up. 

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2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. #10-8

We are getting close to the end of the rankings as we hit the top ten. This group grades out as stars in Poland at a minimum and are players that will push the national team forward. The three players in this article have had success outside of Poland in foreign junior leagues. Two are still playing junior hockey abroad, while one has returned to Poland and made an impact. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 1st, 2022. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.

Players 80-51Players 30-21
Players 50-41Players 20-16
Players 40-31Players 15-11

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

10 – Michał Kusak (F), 18, HC Karlovy Vary U20, (49, +39

Last year, I was excited to see what Kusak could do in Czechia. He had moved to a strong team in HC Karlovy Vary, and I expected big things from the young forward. But due to the pandemic, we only got four U17 games. In 2022, Kusak made the U20 squad for HC Karlovy Vary and proved that he belonged. Thus a big jump in the rankings. In his first taste of U20 hockey, he posted 18 points (5G-13A-18PTS) in 33 games. Among players in their NHL Draft eligible year, his 18 points were tied for 22nd, and his .55 point per game average was 25th. 

I start to get excited about his year when you look at his player production comparables. He is a rare player with high-end matches, with 4.35% of his matches going on to play in the NHL. 43.5% of his matches played in Czechia’s top league or higher. Then at the bare minimum, 82.61% went on to play in the Chance Liga, the second level of hockey in the country. It is not often we get someone with any NHL matches. While I don’t see that as a high possibility, I’m excited about a player who projects to be an impact forward in Czechia. You look at the leaders of the Polish national team now, and quite a few play in the Extraliga or even the Chance Liga. 

Michał Kusak Goal vs. Italy IIHF U20 D1B

On top of all this, he finished his season wit the highlight of his year, when he represented Poland at the Division 1 Group B U18 World Championship. Side note, he was snubbed for the Polish U20 team. At the U18s, he formed a strong trio with Dominik Kolat and Krzysztof Macias. In five games, he finished with two goals and one assist. He came in third on team Poland in points.

He did suffer a severe injury to miss the back half of the Czech U20 season, but it appears he will be back to 100% for next season. He is committed to return to HC Karlovy Vary U20, and I am interested to see how his second U20 year could go.  

9 – Krzysztof Bukowski (F), 20, Genève-Servette U20, (11, +2

One of two Bukowskis in our top ten, the younger brother comes in lower ranked for the first time. Bukowski had another solid year in Switzerland. He made what I thought was a lateral move in the offseason going from Kloten U20 to Genève-Servette U20, which is still in the top Swiss U20 league. With Genève-Servette, Bukowski was going to be trained by former National League player and Swiss U18 team assistant coach Eric Walsky. Genève-Servette U20 would not fare as strong in 2022 as they did the previous year but fought off relegation. 

Krzysztof Bukowski vs. Goal HC Davos U20-Elit

Bukowski slightly improved his production from the previous season. In 46 games, he scored 11 goals and assisted on 14. Three of his assists came in four relegation games. His 25 points were tied for 59th among all skaters, and it was tied for 18th among skaters in their Draft Eligible +2 season. Regarding production comparables, 6.25% went on to play in the top Swiss league, the National League. While 22.9% went on to play in the National League or the second level of Swiss hockey, the Swiss League.

Bukowski finally made his IIHF debut for Poland, playing at the U20 Division 1 Group B World Championships. In five games, he scored once and picked up an assist. Those two points were tied for second on the team in scoring. He was one of Poland’s better forwards at the tournament and looked well above many other Poles. Now out of his U20 career, it will be interesting to see what is next. His brother went from lower Swiss leagues to stardom in the PHL. Could Krzysztof Bukowski try that same path, or will he try to be a professional in Switzerland? As a final note, he holds a Swiss Player license and wouldn’t count as an import. This license allows him to avoid a major hurdle to playing professional hockey in the country. 

8 –  Fabian Kapica (F), 20, Podhale Nowy Targ (16, +8

Our second-highest ranked U20 player on the list, Kapica, was the standout U20 player of the PHL this year. He signed on with Podhale Nowy Targ for the 2022 season and was moved up and down the lineup. Kapica had one of the best U20 seasons in the past few years on a team desperate for offense. The 19-year-old posted 10 points (5G-5A-10PTS) in 30 games. His 10 points led all U20 players in points and goals, and he was tied for the lead in assists. It was also tied for seventh on Podhale in scoring. 

Kapica also played in the MHL for 14 games and scored a big 20 points (9G-11A-20PTS). His 1.43 point per game average was sixth among all U20 skaters. His most impressive outing was at the U20 World Championships. There he was easily Poland’s best forward at the tournament. You could really see him play with so much confidence and offensive ability. On the low-scoring Polish team, he finished with a goal and assist, and it was a pretty nice goal too. 

So far, the situation in Podhale is still unclear, and it is unknown if they will have a team next year. Kapica has consistency issues he will have to improve in the 2023 season, and I would not be surprised if that kept other PHL teams from poaching him and giving him a substantial role. The young forward is on a try-out with Cracovia Krakow. He did sign a two-year deal with Podhale at the end of the 2021 season. We will have to see how the rest of the offseason turns out in Nowy Targ to know where Kapica could play.

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2022 Top 80 Men’s U23 Players. #15-11

We now hit the top 15 with many players that were counted on to contribute to their PHL team. While they were mainly on the lower lines, their clubs could not live without them. We also have the last of our defensemen with the top two highest ranked. That means after this article, only forwards are left in the rankings. These are the players that I feel are going to be top six forwards and top two defensemen in Poland. They have a shot at representing the national team, but should never be considered roster locks for it potentially. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 1st, 2022. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.

Players 80-51Players 30-21
Players 50-41Players 20-16
Players 40-31

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

15 – Konrad Filipek (F), 22, STS Sanok (29, +14) 

In Sanok this year, many young players took significant strides. While much of the attention was on Jakub Bukowski, I was impressed with Konrad Filipek as well. The 22-year-old forward posted eight goals and two assists in 43 games. His ten points were a new career high after posting six the previous season. His eight goals were tied for the fifth most by a U23 skater and were third among Polish U23 players. His ten points were the second most by a player in their age 21 season. 

Filipek Goal vs GKS Katowice PHL

Filipek is in the final year of a 2-year-deal he signed with Sanok, giving him at least one more year with his hometown club. The departures of Bukowski and Sawicki, means there is room for the 6’1 forward to build upon his role in 2023. After Miika Elomo took over, Filipek played up the down the lineup with a few chances on the second line and some powerplay time. 

14 – Igor Smal (F), 22, GKS Katowice (14, 0)

Smal went from the big fish in a small pond to the small fish in the big championship-winning pond. When you move from the bottom of the PHL to the top, you will see a role reduction. Smal played on the fourth line all season but saw some time on the second line during the playoffs. The development opportunities in Katowice are very strong with their lineup and being under the watch of Jacek Plachta. 

Smal Goal vs. Zagłębie Sosnowiec PHL

Smal posted seven points (2G-5A-7PTS) in 50 games this past season. This was the lowest point total of his PHL career. The role change played a big part in that production drop. Stil in a fourth-line role, posting comparable production to last year is nothing to sneeze at. His seven points were tied for 12th among U23 skaters, and it was tied for third among aged 21 skaters. The speedy young center has re-signed with GKS Katowice for the 2023 season. With quite a few key forwards departing Katowice in the offseason, there may be a chance for Smal to jump into a higher spot in the lineup. 

13 – Jakub Prokurat (F), 21, GKS Katowice (8, -7) 

From one small fish that went to a big pond to the next, the story of Jakub Prokurat is similar to Smal. My expectations were a bit higher for Prokurat, as he was coming off a .50 point per game average season in the Oberliga. When you look at the history of players between the two leagues, that .50 usually translates into solid production in Poland. But like Smal, he mainly was stuck on the PHL champion’s fourth line while also spending some time in the MHL on loan to KS Naprzod Janow.

Prokurat Goal vs. Cracovia Krakow PHL

He spent most of his season with Katowice, where in 47 games, he posted five points (2G-3A-5PTS). This was tied for fifth in points among players in their aged 20 season. He had much more success in the MHL, recording 17 points (10G-7A-17PTS) in just ten games. His 1.70 point per game average was fifth among U21 skaters in the league. Prokurat could potentially be a Patryk Wronka-esque player but lacked the two-way game and explosiveness to move up a PHL lineup in 2022. 

12 – Karol Biłas (D), 20, STS Sanok (20, +8

We have reached our second-highest ranked defensemen, the highest-ranked defensemen to play in Poland during the 2023 season. Biłas made his mark both in Poland and on the international stage. He played in a career-high 42 PHL games this year while recording five assists. This led all U20 defensemen in points and saw him tied for second among all U20 skaters in points. He also appeared in the MHL, almost exclusively during the playoffs, where he scored twice and picked up three assists in eight games. To top it off the defenseman also appeared in three CJL games and averaged a point per game. 

Biłas primary assist vs. France IIHF U20 D1B

On the international stage, Biłas made two big appearances. The first was playing for Poland at the IIHF Division 1 Group B U20 World Championships. The 6’0 defenseman was named captain of the event for Poland. The Sanok native also made his senior debut representing Poland at the Baltic Challenge Cup, where he scored against Ukraine. Still mostly playing on the bottom pairings of Sanok, he has re-signed for the 2023 season. I expect this to be when he starts to make significant climbs up the lineup. 

11 – Szymon Bieniek (D), 21, New Jersey Rockets (8, -3

We have now hit our highest-ranked defensemen on the list, meaning all of the top 10 are forwards. Bieniek was a player I was excited to see what the offseason could have in store. While much of his season was canceled due to the pandemic, in 2022 he made his Chance Liga debut and had shown strong production in his six Czechia U20 games. In the end, Bieniek landed back in the US with the New Jersey Rockets. 

The Rockets have teams in the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) and the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). The NCDC is in the second tier of US Junior leagues and is considered the third-best junior league overall. The USPHL is in the third tier and a decent step below the NCDC. Most USPHL players go on to make low-level college commitments. 

Bieniek assist vs. Metro Jets USPHL

With that said, Bieniek played in the USPHL most of the season. He was only in five NCDC games and got on the scoresheet once with an assist. In the USPHL, he played in 50 games scoring 15 goals and assisting on 30. His 45 points were tied for 13th among all defensemen. During the season, Bieniek earned defensemen of the month honors in January. Most of his production matches went to play in NCAA D3, but one made an NCAA commitment and has gone on to play in the ECHL. Bieniek will have better pro opportunities in Europe. But for a defenseman past his junior days, I would have liked to see him start to take baby steps into professional hockey, or at least a stronger junior league. Still a great season and I’m excited to see where he plays next year.

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