Category: Mens Prospects

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.

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. #15-11

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

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 30th, 2021. We are only judging play that occurred before that date as well. Players are evaluated based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Players must have played at least five hockey games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred forty-five players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking. Players 80-51 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 50 players receive a report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Igor Smal Goal vs Gdansk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bizacki goal vs. Lithuania

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players 10-8

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Breaking Down Poland’s U20 Team and Predictions

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

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

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

Goalies

Oskar Polak

Mikołaj Szczepkowski

Szymon Klimowski

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

Defensemen

Karol Biłas – Oliwier Kasperek

Bartosz Florczak – Kacper Macias

Michał Jaracz – Michał Proczek

Eryk Schafer

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

Forwards

Krzyzstof Macias- Jakub Ślusarczyk – Krzysztof Bukowski

Wiktor Bochnak – Stanislaw Drozd-Niekurzak – Fabian Kapica

Szymon Dobosz – Tobiasz Kapica – Karol Sterbenz

Szymon Maćkowski – Sebastian Wicher – Paweł Wybiral

Dominik Kasprzyk

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

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

Conclusion and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #20-16

The hockey season continues to march on as we do with the list. We are now entering the next tier I discussed in the last article. If you missed it, I divide the list into three levels. The third tier is the widest, and I can see these players in the PHL, whether on the fourth or second line. The second tier is where we are now. The second tier is players I feel will be top-line stars in the PHL. These are players with that first line, top 2, or starting goalie potential. 

Now we have our next five picks, who have experienced a lot of changes in the rankings. Each player either raised or fell by seven spots. That is remarkable for how high we are on the list—the higher in the rankings, the less change we see, with injured players being the exception. A significant fall can be recovered from, as we will see later with the player who the most significant fall in 2020.

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 judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Players must have played at least five hockey games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred forty-five players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking. Players 80-51 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 50 players receive a report.

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

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

20 – Karol Biłas (D), 19, STS Sanok, (36, +16)

There is so much great young talent in the Sanok system. That was on full display last year, with the team having a competitive roster despite how young most of the talent was. One of the young players that had to play a lot was Biłas. Just 17-years-old to start the season is a challenging task for any young player, but especially on defense with a forward core that will not offer that much offensive support. He is physically at about average to above-average size for PHL defensemen at 6’0 and 187 lbs. But how was he on the ice? 

Biłas is a player that I usually compliment more on his stellar offensive play. He posted five assists in 32 games for Sanok, which led all draft-eligible skaters in the PHL. His point total also tied the 18th best total by any skater in their draft-eligible season of all time. In his draft-eligible season, Biłas’ point total is tied for second all-time among defensemen. It was a rare season for a player this age and especially position. 

The offensive side is still the best part of his game. While I called him a two-way guy last year, I would say he is a full-blown offensive defenseman with a nice shot. That statement reflects on his play in both zones. His defensive play is still progressing, and it’s not going to be an issue of skating. It will be an issue of experience and will likely be a bump in the road over the next few years for him. No offense to the level of Slovak hockey, but this was the first time in his career where he had to face professional offenses. If he improves in his zone as he gains more experience, then Biłas can likely be a top-line defenseman in the PHL. His offensive play will always keep him high up on the teams’ lineup with powerplay time. 

19 – Sebastian Brynkus (F), 20, Cracovia Krakow, (8, -11)

Brynkus takes a significant fall in my rankings and out of the top ten. It is not at all injury-related. He even played more than the previous year and did not suffer a large production decrease. In the end, Brynkus had a slight decline in offense in a year where so many other young players received huge chances for ice time and offensive opportunities. He is not getting that many chances to create that much production on the lower lines. His play away from the puck in his zone and the opposing continues to improve. 

Brynkus assist vs Gdasnk (PHL)

While he continues to improve the other facets of his game, his offensive skill will always be the highlight of his arsenal. His explosiveness is why he became so highly regarded after showing it at IIHF events and in Poland’s lower leagues. Until Brynkus shows his production ability in the PHL, it will be hard to project his ceiling. Among players, his age since 2010 in the PHL, his .18 point per game average last year ranks outside the top 70. Once he proves himself as a producer at the PHL, he will shoot back up the rankings, but question marks will stick until then. It may just be the playing behind imports in Krakow. During the 17 plus year reign of head coach Rudolf Rohacek, only Aron Chmielewski has been able to break into the top 6 while being on the cusp of his 20s. 

Whatever the reason, the critical part to remember is Bryknus is only turning 21 at the end of this hockey season and will already have over 150 PHL games under his belt. That experience is precious for a young player, especially when coming with a constant contender like Krakow. Playing with imports from high leagues is always a chance for a young polish player to learn. I have faith we will see Brynkus breakout even if we’re waiting for the end of his U23 days. 

18 – Michał Naróg (D), 20, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (25, +7)

Of players who took the best advantage of the covid year, Naróg is at the top of the list. In my opinion, it is much harder for defensemen to make it in the PHL, and we have seen fewer defensemen make it at such a young age and play strong hockey over the years. The 5’8 defenseman didn’t just look in place but earned his way up the roster and found himself playing a top 4 role on defense at just 19-years-old. While the Sosnowiec wasn’t the greatest, he still earned it and helped the team keep pace. 

The biggest standout from his season was nine assist in 30 games. His nine assists were tied for 20th among defensemen in the PHL, and it was the most among all U23 defensemen. Since 2010 it would be tied for 30th among all U23 defensemen. He did this on a team that failed to break 100 goals during the regular season, making Narog a part of 10% of his team’s goal while missing six games. Only one defenseman has had more points in their draft-eligible plus two season, Oskar Jaskiewicz.

Narog Goal vs. Katowice (MHL)

While that offensive season is impressive for his age and position, that is one part of the game, and as the team improves around him, we have to see how many of those points came from top line minutes with forwards who produce above a point per game level. While Sosnowiec didn’t have a lot of talent, Ruslan Bashirov was third in points, and Yevgeni Nikiforov was seventh in the league. It is not impossible to be natural progression from his rookie year, Narog managed four assists in 30 games and had been above a point per game player in the MHL for a while. 

He has avoided making major mistakes on the defensive end while facing the toughest competition in his top-four role. Few things like missing his assignment or picking up a man will go away with more time, especially with his role challenging top line, while paired with better defensive partners. He has quickly turned some heads with his hot start. He was one of the young players named to team Poland for the Baltic Challenge Cup. 

17 – Dominik Jarosz (F), 23, JKH GKS Jastrzebie (10, -7

JKH GKS Jastrzębie won the big one last season. The best team in the league featured a forward group with the best imports in the league. Add in plenty of young players taking that next step in their career and getting noticed for stronger clubs outside Poland. In a year where so many extraordinary moments happened for the organization, it feels weird to dissect a player and ask what went wrong. Each year Jarosz proved himself more and more. With Jastrzębie, he went from three to ten to 22 points. This past year he was dropped back down to eight points in the regular season. He even found himself back in the MHL for the first time since 2018. 

It was the largest point drop by any player on our ranking from the previous season. That is also something you don’t want to see out of a player that is starting to reach that point where development starts to slow, and seeing a player’s ceiling is a lot more clear. While a drop like that is concerning, I’m not close to writing him off. It was a down year on one of the most stacked Polish teams we have seen in a long time. 

Last year we talked about how great he was, and those same compliments remain. The size and speed make him one of the most dangerous forwards in Poland, especially down low. He is brilliant and seems to have so much patience and control on the ice, generating plenty of scoring chances. While Jarosz is great, there are a few more complete players ahead of him, along with many strong imports. He dropped down the line-up and wasn’t afforded many chances. He will rebound.

16 – Fabian Kapica (F), 19, Podhale Nowy Targ (29, +13

Kapica makes a big move up the list after his first full professional season. The previous year the young player bounced around a few levels of hockey in Poland and some junior hockey in Germany. Podhale Nowy Targ is a team that is on the downswing right now and is hurting to attract talent. Especially with a significant focus on that talent being Polish. For the past few years, we have seen a push by the blue and yellow bring back a lot of young Polish players to Poland with professional opportunities. Kapica was among those young Poles and the stand out of the group. 

Kapica Goal vs Sanok (PHL)

Kapica managed three goals in 23 games in his first full professional season. While not eye-popping numbers, it led U19 forwards in goals and points. It is also tied for the sixth-most goals by a player his age since 2000. He plays hard and shows excellent hustle, and I’m honestly surprised he couldn’t generate a few more scoring chances last year. At the MHL level, we saw more offensive dominance. There he posted three goals and seven assists in eight games. His 1.25 point per game average was the fourth-best in his age range. That MHL total is something I love to see out of a player. Most players saw a drop in MHL production. I don’t know what Kapica’s ceiling is. It is hard to project with the limited amount of games he has played over the last two years. He has the potential to be a special player for Poland, and I’m excited to see what he can accomplish on Poland’s u20 squad.

Players 15-11

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2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #30-21

The top 50 list continues to march on as the hockey season as already started. We are starting to hit the big names on the list. In this list, I separate players into four tiers based on their floors. The fourth and last tier are players ranked 80-50. These are players I feel will have a chance to make the PHL, but no guarantee. The third tier is players I think will have PHL careers but will not be your top-line players. The second tier is players I view with a chance to become top liners in Poland. The first and final tiers are your players I feel can be good players or stars outside of Poland. Right now, we are just about at the end of tier 3. 

The next set of players are primarily big risers. Only two of the following ten players fell in our rankings. When I say big risers, I mean it as well. Some of the players next up are the players I underestimated the most. We got to see a majority of the players spend their entire season in the PHL. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 30th, 2021. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. Players must have played at least five hockey games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred forty-five players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking. Players 80-51 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 50 players receive a report.

Players 50-41

Players 40-31

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

30 – Miłosz Noworyta (D), 22, Unia Oświęcim, (27, -3) 

Noworyta has made appearances for Oswiecim for the past three years, working his way to a full-time roster member last season. This year, he still spent more than a majority of his time with the senior squad. But found himself mostly relegated to the fourth line of defense with his older brother. He also missed a few games and played a couple of matches at the MHL level. His defensive play is the most notable highlight of his game, while his offensive game is lacking. While with the team, Unia Oswiecim has become more and more of a force in the PHL. They have continued to bring in better defenders ahead of him, which has played a part in dampening his development. 

29 – Konrad Filipek (F), 22, STS Sanok (32, +3)

Filipek has slowly been working his way up the Sanok system playing with the club in the MHL and third tier of Slovak hockey. Now this year, he finally got a full-time shot at the senior level of the PHL. He responded with a goal and five assists in 36 games. It was 6th among points for players his age. His late birthday allowed him to play at international events in Poland as one of the most mature players. Which always helped him stand out a bit. Now he is showing that was not the only reason why though. He does turn 22 in the middle of the season, he will need to show he belongs higher up the line up soon.

28 – Krystian Mocarski (F), 22, Stoczniowiec Gdansk, (55, +27) 

The Gdansk situation was not going to be an easy one for most players. A couple of players smashed it out of the park though, one of them was Krystian Mocarski. Mocarski had an excellent year for the blue and white in northern Poland. In total, he recorded eight goals and seven assists in 36 games. It was tied for 9th among U23 PHL players in terms of points, and his .42 PPG game average was 11th among U23 skaters. It was also second on all of Gdansk for points. Plus his total was also tied 44th among all Polish forward since the 2010 season in points per game. Next year Mocarski is moving to a much better Sanok team, and I’m excited to see how it goes. 

27 – Jakub Blanik (F), 21, Zaglebie Sosnowiec (20, -7)

Last year Blanik went to Sosnowiec in search of more chances after he was deemed too small for JKH GKS Jastrzebie. It was a breakout year for the 5’7 forward who posted 7 points in 17 games with Sosnowiec, though he was also pointless in 13 games with PZHL U23. This year, he was scheduled to get a more significant role with Sosnowiec on their weaker roster. Blanik was one of the players that suffered from a watered down roster, as he posted a meager two goals and one assist in 31 games. His .10 point per game average was 30th among U23 PHL forwards. This was a rough year for a good player, who should be able to recover. 

26 – Adrian Gromadzki (F), 17, HC Dynamo Pardubice U17 (NR)

Gromadzki would have been ranked last year if he met the age requirement. He was, unfortunately, playing in a Czechia junior system that shut down less than ten games in. He recorded three goals and four assists in his five games, Which were 9th among players in points per game that played five games in their draft-eligible -2 season. He has got the size and offensive touch that will get him attention outside Poland. He is set to play at the Czech U20 level next season. 

25 – Jakub Bukowski (F), 21, STS Sanok (64, +36)

Bukowski has long been a good player for a long time abroad, but it was mainly in the second level of junior leagues in Czechia and Switzerland. Still, he has shown a lot of promise, and we put him as the U23 player to watch on Sanok. Bukowski delivered on that with five goals and six assists in 40 games. The second most points by a player in the draft-eligible +2 season. His ceiling is hard to tell, and he will need to continue to bulk up. The more time we get with him on Sanok, especially as the team improves, will help see what he can fully become. Right now, it appears his floor is a solid PHL middle-six forward. 

24 – Sebastian Lipiński (G), 21, Unia Oswiecim (31, +7)

I think imports have a considerable place in Polish hockey, but there is no doubt that there is starting to be a problem with how few young goalies are playing.  Lipiński is our top-ranked goalie who played four games in the PHL last year. He recorded a save percentage of .900, which is the highest of his career in the PHL. The rumors suggest that Lipiński will be playing in the U.K.’s NIHL, the second level of men’s hockey in the country. Not much else to say about it. There is a problem with Polish goalie development in a significant way. There is nowhere for them to play appropriately. 

23 – Kacper Gruzla (F), 22, GKS Tychy (49, +26)

From barely making the top 50 to being right smack dab in the middle, Gruzla comes in at 23. Gruzla forced the Tychy staff to play him as much as possible. This was the first big taste of the PHL for the Mikolow native. He had previously played 14 games with PZHL U23, but only one with GKS Tychy. This year, he found himself with 22 games and responded with five goals and three assists. His nine points tied him for the 13th best point per game average among all U23 skaters, it is tied 9th among Polish players. Gruzla went from a young player looking to make an impression to a part of GKS Tychy’s everyday lineup. 

22- Klaudiusz Libik (D), 20, Vålerenga U21 (12, -10)

Libik is a player I like a lot and I see a chance for Poland to have something their lineup often lacks. Which is a defenseman good enough to play in leagues stronger than the PHL. Libik worked his way up to the top junior leagues of Norway. In the end, his lack of experience, inconsistency, and quick changing of teams has resulted in a player with mixed development. This past year Libik managed a goal and an assist in seven games with Vålerenga U21, his third U21 junior team. 

Now next year, he will be turning professional in Norways’ 2nd league. This is the perfect place for him to gain constant playing time against senior talent while developing. Hopefully, his flaws should not bite his game as much. 

21 – Mateusz Bezwiński (F), 20, Cracovia Krakow, (26, +5)

Bezwiński’s improvement seems to get larger and larger every year. As the soon-to-be 20-year-old finished 5th in points among U20 skaters with three goals and three assists in 19 games, it was 3rd in points per game. In the MHL, he recorded 12 points in nine games, which is a tad bit better point per game average than the previous year. This is a bit more notable because of how many players lost points from the year prior. Krakow has a large batch of young forwards; hopefully, Bezwiński’s growth rate continues. He no doubt would have been one of the leaders at the U20s this year for Poland.

Players 20-16

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2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #40-31

The top 50 is underway and we’re now on to the players ranked 40-31. The last group is hard to make. As you have to cut a few players from getting a report. Until you get to your 20s, in my opinion, the difference between most players is not that major. A lot of them are very minor and could realistically flip with another month of play, or even a few more games.  

This next batch of players is an interesting group. It’s a mixture of some newcomers tearing it up around Europe and a few players that improved their stock in the PHL. It was definitely a trend this year in the PHL, due to covid, that some teams relied on younger players more. In some cases that worked great and players took a huge jump. In other cases the larger role with a poor supporting cast hurt young players and their numbers fell. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 30th, 2021. Players are judged 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 own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. One hundred forty-five players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking. Players 80-51 will be revealed at the end of the series in the breakdown article. Only the top 50 players receive a report.

Players 50-41

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

40. Bartosz Florczak (D), 19, STS Sanok, (38, -2)

Florczak’s quick climb in the rankings came to an end, as he slides a minor two down the rankings. This fall more comes down to quite a few newcomers and other players taking a larger jump. He is also definitely a player that would have benefited from a few international tournaments. A strong two-way defender definitely had run into problems of low ice time, and poor supporting cast. Still the 18-year-old was able to post 2 assists in 30 PHL games. The third most points by any skater in their draft-eligible season. While a sample size of six games, his 1.67 points per game average was the best among U20 defensemen in the MHL. 

39. Krzyzstof Macias (F), 17, HC Vitkovice U17, (Not Ranked)


Macias had a really great season for HC Poruba in 2020. His 21 goals were the 13th most among U16 players in the Czech U16 league. The Podhale native had played for HC Poruba most of his junior career, but after the breakout year, HC Vitkovice picked up the talented Polish forward. It appeared he was going to be a great pick-up as well with 6 goals and 5 assists in just 7 games. This had him tied for 17th among all skaters in terms of points. Its going to be exciting to see what he does at the U20 level, and should shoot him up the rankings. 

38. Armen Khoperia (D), 21, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (41, +3)

Khoperia’s ranking has kinda stayed the same over the years. That is not to say he is not making progress and developing as a player. He is best in his own zone and continuing to develop into a great defenseman. He went up and down the Sosnowiec lineup as they struggled with a rough year. He started playing top-line minutes to begin the year but went down in the lineup as the season went on. He would rebound though as he and Eduard Kaščák formed Sosnowiec’s top paring for the home stretch of the season. In total, he posted four assists in 36 games.

37. Aleks Menc (F), 17, KS Naprzod Janow, (Not ranked)

Menc has long been considered a top Polish prospect. If you have been following my account for long enough you have probably seen some of the ridiculous point totals he has posted in Polish hockey’s junior divisions.

Menc really has the potential to be a special player. This year, he was finally getting out of Poland and headed over to Sweden. The 16-year-old suited up Kiruna AIF J20 in the second level of U20 hockey in Sweden. He only got in a total of two games before the season was canceled, recording both a goal and an assist. This made him one of only five U17 players to post more than one point. He then suited up for Janow in Poland recording 3 points (1-2-3pts) in 6 MHL games. Along with 35 points in 17 lower junior games, but only a goal and assist in 8 CLJ games. Next year he will be representing Strömsbro IF J18 in the second level of Swedish U18 hockey. The team has a close relationship with the top Swedish club Brynas IF. 

36. Marcel Kotula (G), 20, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (44. +8)

Kotula was one of two young goalies in a rough Sosnowiec situation. There was no way any goalie was going to thrive there. It was also a familiar place for Kotula, who saw similar action with PZHL U23. Sosnowiec would later add another goalie as well, at the PHL level, and had talented Lithuania Tadas Ramanauskas at the MHL level. This made playing time a bit hard to come by, but Kotula fought for his minutes. In five PHL games, he recorded a .871 save percentage up from his .829 mark the previous year with PZHL U23. While at the MHL level, he posted a .909 SV% the fifth-best among all MHL goalies. Definitely lost a few big international starting spots due to COVID-19, and I hope to see him with a few more PHL games next year. 

35. Mateusz Ubowski (F), 21, GKS Tychy, (28, -7

Ubowski had a really strong year in 2020 making his debut for GKS Tychy along with being a key member of PZHL U23 recording 5 points in 23 games. This year, he only managed one assist in 6 games. Along with seeing his MHL point total drop from 48 points in 24 games to 28 points in 20 games. The MHL was a lot better league this year and points was not easy to come by.. His 28 points still were the tenth most in the MHL for 2021, when they would have been tied for 19th in 2020. Still, this was his final U20 season, the talented forward will need to start translating his skills over at the senior level in a hard Tychy lineup to crack. 

34. Maciej Miarka (G), 21, GKS Katowice, (42, +8

Goalies were given more slack in the rankings this year, as I think in past years I jugded them too hard. That said Miarka did earn his ranking improvement. The Lodz native moved from Jastrezbie to Katowice this year to serve as the team’s primary backup. While he didn’t get too much action in the green and black, his .891 save percentage was the best among U20 goalies, and fifth among U23 goalies. It is also a nice bump up from the .847 he recorded with PZHL U23 the previous year. John Murray will be the starting goalie next year in Katowice, which will be a great veteran for Miarka to learn and grow behind. 

33. Michał Cychowski (F), 19, Krefelder EV 1981 U20, (30, -3)

It was a unfortunate year for Cychowski. He was set to be a key player for Poland at junior international events along with his first full season in the DNLU20, the top junior league in Germany. Instead, he played a whole five games for Krefelder EV 1981 U20. Not really much else to say about his year. He was recently named to the U20 team for training camp and a tournament in August 

32. Michał Zając (F), 20, Stoczniowiec Gdansk, (43, +11)

Zając flashed some skills in 2020 in short runs with PZHL U23 and Polonia Bytom. With Stoczniowiec Gdansk this year, he was able to get a lot of playing time due to the lack of veteran talent on Gdansk. A common thing in the PHL this year, but Zajac excelled in the situation. He posted 11 points (4G-7A-11) in 36 games. This was the most points by a U20 player in the PHL this year. Since 2000, it is the 21st best season for a player in their draft-eligible plus 1 season in the PHL. It also sets him up with some nice production comparables like Pawel Zygmunt, Mateusz Michalski, and  Patryk Krezolek. Though the average for most of the comparables is a .31 PHL point per game average career. 

31. Michał Bernacki (F), 23, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (22. -9)

From one player who really flourished in a larger role with a talent-strapped team to one who saw their production drop. In 2020, Bernacki posted a 20 point season, but in 2021 his point total dropped 5 (2G-3A-5PTS) points in 28 games. A rough season after he looked good in some pre-season matches including a double goal game against Podhale, which matches his total for the season. He started the year as well mostly on the second line, eventually missing most of January and falling to the bottom 6. Bernacki is a solid forward with good size, and I have confidence that his production will bounce back. Especially as the talent around him in Sosnowiec improves. 

Players 30-21

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2021 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #50-41

Last year I thought the list was difficult because a few players missed playoff games or international tournaments. This year was even more challenging as some players did not play at all. Lots of players saw their season cut short or never get started. In Poland, hockey was able to be played with both the PHL and MHL completing their seasons.

I thought about skipping the list this year because many of the top young players maybe saw their years canceled as they play abroad. I ended up looking at it similar to a player with a season-ending injury. A lot of players lost a crucial year of development. Their sacrifice will hopefully be understood with coaches as they play a bit of catch-up.

With that said, there was a lot of hockey played, with plenty of players taking significant steps in their careers. At the same time, plenty of others have been a part of an action-packed offseason and moving up levels. It is time for the top 50 U23 players of 2021. 

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 30th, 2021. Players are judged 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 own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world 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.

Honorable Mentions (In No Order): Patryk Pelaczyk, Marcin Plachetka, Lukasz Kaminski, Patryk Wysocki, Paweł Bizub. 

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

50. Oliwier Kasperek (D), 19, MOSM Tychy (Not Ranked) 

Kasperek makes his first appearance on the list after just missing a ranking last year. The young defensemen would have certainly been vying for a spot on Poland’s U20 roster. He did play for the U20 team in their two games at Opole HK. He had a cup of coffee with GKS Tychy playing in 4 games. Most of his time was spent with MOSM Tychy in the MHL. There he recorded 13 points (2G-11A-13PTS) in 29 games. His regular-season point total was tied for sixth among MHL U20 defensemen. 

49. Michał Kusak (F), 17, HC Karlovy Vary U17 (Not Ranked)

From one non-ranked player to the next, Michal Kusak makes the top 50. Kusak left Poland at 14, to play in the top U17 level in Czechia. In his third year at the U17 level, It appeared Kusak was going to have a breakout season with 5 points (1G-4A-5PTS) in his first four games. The rest of the season was canceled. Kusak returned to Poland, putting up a similar performance with 5 points (1G-4A-5PTS) in 3 games during the junior level postseason. 

48. Patryk Gosztyla (D), 22, Cracovia Krakow (51, +3)

Gosztyla came over to Krakow last year from the Slovak junior system. At the time, Krakow was looking to inject more young Polish talent into their lineup. Despite that, regular playing time found itself hard to come by for the 6’2 defender in his first season. 2021 proved to be better as he played 28 games while recording one assist. The stay-at-home defenseman has continued to improve his game slightly. He is not close to a national team contributor yet. Next year at 22, he will need a break-out season. 

47. Jakub Worwa (F), 22, Podhale Nowy Targ (66, +19)

While it may seem like Worwa is getting a big jump. This is mainly due to staying healthy after just playing 12 games in 2020. I was very excited to see Worwa play this year after posting 6 points the previous year in just 12 games. In 36 games this year, he recorded three goals and four assists. This production is down from 2019 when he posted 11 points as a 19-year-old. He still finished 13th in scoring among u22 players. The power-forward has a make-or-break year in 2022. 

46. Dawid Wróblewski (F), 19, JKH GKS Jastrzebie (Not Ranked) 

Wróblewski has many positive assets at his disposal. These include good size at 6’4, and strong offensive instincts. In past years, he was always someone hard to leave unranked. It came down to putting it all together when he was playing at higher levels. This year the Polish forward with US citizenship found himself loaned to Polonia Bytom in the MHL. He was more than impressive. His 26 points (12G-14A-26PTS) in 21 games were tied for fifth among u20 players in the MHL. He also added 18 points (7G-11A-18PTS) in 6 games during the CLJ postseason. I hope to see him receive a cup of coffee in the PHL next year. 

45. Filip Plonka (G), 19, Unia Oswiecim (73, +28)

Our first goalie on the list! Again this year, I wanted to give more credit to the goalies. Plonka made headlines last year when he recorded his first PHL shutout in his first game at 16-years-old. While this year was a bit step back statistically. Almost all goalies declined in the MHL this year. His .892 SV% was still seventh in the MHL, among players with at least five games. With Lipinski departing, it seems Plonka is the pick of the future in Oswiecim. 

44. Wiktor Bochnak (F), 20, AZ Havirov U20 (52, +8)

Bochnak has spent most of his junior career in Czechia. Thus he has been able to work his way up the system. He has played at the top level of junior hockey in the country since he was 16. His numbers during that time were not always eye-popping. Before the Czech system shut down for the year, Bochnak played in six pointless games. He ended the year on a high note after returning to Poland. With Podhale, he posted 26 points (14G-12A-26PTS) in just 12 games across the MHL and CLJ.  

43. Michał Nawrocki (F), 18, Sokoly Torun (76, +33)

Nawrocki had a solid couple of years in the German junior ranks. This year he was set to test his skills in Sweden’s J18 Div.1 with Kalix HC J18, but most levels of Swedish hockey were canceled. Nawrocki managed to get in 6 games recording a goal and an assist but not much time to show what he has. He would return to Tourn and play in Poland’s junior system. In the MHL, he recorded 9 points (4G-5A) in 11 games. The third best point per game average among U18 MHL skaters. The Gdansk native also netted 17 points in 16 games across other Polish junior contests. 

42. Jan Krzyzek (F), 21, GKS Tychy (34, -8)

Last year the big german-born forward played at almost every level with a lot of success. This year was split between the GKS Tychy and their MHL team. In 18 PHL games with Tychy, he recorded one goal. While down from his three goals the previous year, he had a lesser role with Tychy than PZHL u23. At the junior level, it was a different story.  His 1.70 PPG was the 5th best by a U20 player in the MHL. Krzyzek was explosive in the postseason with 15 points (9G-6A-15PTS) in 8 CLJ games of play. At 21 next year, we will need to see some of his production start to shown through at the senior level. 

41. Szymon Dobosz (F), 19 STS Sanok, (45, +4)

Dobosz was able to play the majority of this year at the senior level for STS Sanok. In those 26 games, he did go pointless. I’m not too worried about that, given the level of talent he was surrounded by in Sanok. In the MHL, his 12 points in 7 games resulted in the highest points per game average among all players in their first draft-eligible year. Dobosz was at the weird place of too good for junior hockey but not good enough for top-level senior hockey yet. Unfortunately, in Poland, there is not an excellent place for those players.

Players 40-31

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Jakub Lewandowski Makes NCAA Commitment

One of Poland’s best young players has taken another major step in their hockey career. 19-year-old Jakub Lewandowski has made 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.

Lewandowski quickly emerged as a special talent for Poland. He moved to Czechia at just 16-years-old to play at the top level of U18 hockey in the country. He moved up the ranks quickly making it to the top level in 2019. After his breakout year with 48 points in 48 games in the Czechia U19 league, he moved over to the USA. The Polish forward was able to make it to the USHL, the top level of junior hockey in the states. With the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, he recorded 20 points in 42 games. He was considered a possible late round NHL draft pick at the beginning of the year.

The Torun native has also represented Poland twice on the international stage. He had a seven point tournament in 2018 at the U18s. His best performance though was a 13 point performance at the U20s in 2019. Last season due to COVID-19, Lewandowski returned to Europe and HC Vitkovice. Unfortunately, the Czechia junior leagues would also stop playing after a handful of games. The 6’3 forward still managed four goals and one assist in five games.

Bemidji State University has been playing at the top level of college hockey since 1999. Their best year making it to the frozen four in 2009. Last year the team managed a 22-10-5 record. This was good for the second best record in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Beavers from Northern Minnesota have been coached by Tom Serratore since 1999. It was also the former home of NHL players Brad Hunt (Wild) and Zach Whitecloud (Golden Knights).

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One Young Player To Watch on Every PHL Team

The PHL season is fully underway. With plenty of teams facing a COVID-19 related cut to their roster. This left plenty of roster spaces open for young players to earn. COVID-19 also caused PZHL U23 to be left out of the plans for the hockey year. It also left many players without a way to play a sizable amount of games in the PHL, which is an excellent development experience. If a player were going to get meaningful minutes in the PHL, they would have to prove it to their clubs’ coach that they are ready to contribute in the league.

I think those conditions make it the perfect time to check in on the young talent for each PHL club. I also am setting a goal to pick players that are not as traditionally regarded as a top player. Sure Dominik Pas is a great young player, but he has also been in the PHL for years now. So I am setting a rule of less than 50 PHL games coming into the year.

Cracovia KrakowPatryk Gosztyla. In the past couple of years, Krakow started to make an apparent effort in bringing in young talent. Gosztyla was part of that initial group. The 6’2 defensemen got a bit lost in the shuffle in 2019 after returning to Poland from the Slovak junior system. This year though, he has cemented himself as part of the Krakow defensemen lineup, already topping his games played total from last year. The 20-year-old also has posted five points (1G-4A-5PTS) in six games in the Polish second league. Honorable Mention: Igor Augustyniak

GKS Tychy – Kacper Gruźla. Gruźla had a breakout year last year in the Polish second league. This earned him a long term spot with PZHL U23 and an appointment to the Polish U20 squad. This year he has run with it playing in six games for GKS Tychy. Since then, he has already impacted the boxscore, recording two goals and two assists. If the 6’1 forward continues his upward trend, he could find himself with a larger PHL and national team role. Honorable Mention: Jan Krzyżek

JKH GKS Jastrzębie – Dawid Wróblewski. Jastrzebie has the most young talent of any team in Poland. With that, a lot of the talent has already played more than 50 games, as a lot of the talent has long been promoted to the PHL. Wróblewski saw a lot of action across different Polish junior teams putting up solid production wherever he went. This year, with Jastrzębie not having a team in Poland’s second league, the 6’4 forward was loaned to Polonia Bytom. There he has put up six goals and six assists in eight games. He should be able to start trying to force his way into the Jastrzebie roster. Honorable Mention: Marcin Płachetka

KH GKS Katowice – Maciej Miarka. Miarka joined the Katowice squad after seeing the logjam of goalies in Jastrzebie. In Katowice, the former Poland U18 and U20 goalie should play quite a few games in the PHL this year. In Katowice, the Łódź native will be backing up veteran Slovakian goalie Juraj Šimboch. So far, in two PHL games this season, the 6’1 goalie has a .912 SV%. Including stopping all seven shots, he faced in relief against defending champs GKS Tychy. Honorable Mention: Marcin Wyśnik

KH Energa Toruń – Oskar Bajwenko. Before we knew if this hockey year would go on at all, Toruń had a team mostly of junior players with a few imports and returning veterans. One of the few junior players from that group to earn a contract was Oskar Bajwenko. Bajwenko is a smaller defenseman but not afraid to go into the corners and get physical. He has received a small amount of junior national team consideration. He is a project. He could develop into a tremendous physical defenseman with two-way abilities. He has only played in one game so far in the PHL, but with the start the club has had this season, it is understandable they may not want to change up the lineup. Honorable Mention; Filip Mazurkiewicz

Podhale Nowy Targ – Ernest Bochnak. Nowy Targ came into this season, emphasizing finding new Polish talent and has already tried out quite a few new young players. This includes Ernest Bochnak. Bochnak comes over after time in the Czech and Finnish junior systems. Last year he played most in the third level of Czech hockey, recording two goals and four assists in twenty-two games. Bochnak has long been one of the best Polish junior players. He now has a chance to show that in Podhale. Through eight games, he has two points notching both a goal and an assist. Honorable Mention: Fabian Kapica

Stoczniowiec Gdansk – Michał Zając. I have many feelings about the club and how they will be as a place for developing young talent. The team will undoubtedly provide a lot of value to young players in terms of ice time. Zając is taking advantage of that, playing in each of the team’s games so far. In those ten matches, he has recorded one goal and three assists. This matches his production from last year with PZHL U23 but in a much smaller role. He is making the most of his opportunities. The 6’1 forward would have easily made the Polish U20 squad if not for COVID. Honorable Mention: Bartosz Wołoszyk

STS Sanok – Jakub Bukowski. Sanok is one of the youngest teams in the PHL, leaving many options for this choice. For their pick, I went with Jabuk Bukowski as he is probably the most pro hockey ready. He showed up well in the pre-season and has done well so far in the regular season. He has three goals and one assist. His point total is tied for third on Sanok. The talented forward showed a lot of potential in smaller Czech and Swiss leagues and now has a great chance to show his skills in Poland. He has been given many top line chances in Sanok, giving him an excellent opportunity to develop further. Honorable Mention: Maciej Witan

Unia Oswiecim – Sebastian Lipiński. While I tried to pick less known players for this list, the gap between Lipiński and the rest of the Oswiecim roster was too big. Lipiński is one of the best young goaltenders Poland has seen in a long time, with few rarely even able to play the amount of PHL games he has at his age. So far, in his lone game this season, he posted a 15 save shutout vs. Gdansk. Honorable Mention: Patryk Kusak

Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Marcel Kotuła. Sosnowiec is another team packed with a lot of young talent, but most of their young talent are seasoned veterans of the PHL. As mentioned in Lipinski’s paragraph, young goalies don’t get those chances in the PHL. This season Marcel Kotuła will compete with 24-year-old Michal Czernik for reps. Last year Kotuła led all goalies in save percentage for the Polish first league. So far through four games between the PHL and Polish first league, he has a .917 SV% along with one shutout. Honorable Mention: Szymon Luszniak