2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #8

This year was a pivotal year for Polish hockey. For many players that frequented the list last year or in the years past it was onto full-time professional hockey in Poland or testing their skills in another countries highest junior league, while plenty of players arose to challenge and cemented themselves as future pillars of the national team plenty of players couldn’t live up to their expectations causing drastic changes to the rankings.

This is not the time I wanted to start the list, as the World Championship and U18 World Championship are a great way for players to improve their stock, the U18 World Championship being the first significant exposure for a lot of players. Due to the coronavirus, there are no more tournaments, and hockey is done for the year. Polish hockey itself faces an uncertain future as the virus will leave a lasting effect for years to come.

The real world is a very dark and scary place right now, but I want to look forward to the future while stuck at home. The future of the Polish national team is something that fans should be excited about. I have maintained for years that Poland has more young talent right now then it did any other time this century. I still stand by that opinion today. Poland saw their ace prospect prove himself in professional North American hockey, another NHL draft prospect rise, and a vast increase in depth. Today we start our ranking of the top 50 Men’s U23 players in Poland.

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on March 27th, 2020. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. While a majority of the ranking is my own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. 140 players were considered for the list and scouted. 80 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 scouting report.

Players 50-41 Players 15-13 Player 9
Players 40-31 Player 12
Players 30-21 Player 11
Players 20-16 Player 10

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking

8 – Sebastian Brynkus (F), 19, Cracovia Krakow, (14, +6

Krakow has always been a bit of a controversial team in the PHL when it comes to young players, as some have accused them of being too reliant on imports. On the other hand, Aron Chmielewski and Paweł Zygmunt have been able to secure Tipsport Extraliga deals after spending a few years of their early professional careers with Krakow. Brynkus could be the next to follow in their footsteps.

For the past two years, Brynkus has been one of Poland’s most vital forward’s at junior international events. Last season, he posted 20 points in 10 games between the U20 and U18 World Championships. This season he posted seven points (4-3-7) in five games at the U20 World Championship. He ranked third on team Poland for goals and points. He also made his senior international team debut playing in three games at a Euro Ice Hockey Challenge.

 

Brynkus 1
Byrnkus backhanded goal vs. Oświęcim

 

His club season was also quite impressive, with Krakow this year he posted 12 points (6-6-12) in 40 games. This was tied for third, with Igor Smal, for all U20 players. It was first among players under 19 by five points. It is the 24th best season by a u19 player in the PHL since 2000. There is one major concern though. Eight of his points came against Janow or PZHL u23. This is a significant concern for me, as it means just four of his points came against quality competition. His strong international performance and play on the ice is why I will overlook it in my rankings, but it is definitely a concern for the future. He was stuck mostly on the fourth line besides these matches vs. Janow and PZHL u23. Next year, he will likely see a more substantial role meaning more minutes versus stronger clubs. Hopefully, his production against stronger clubs will follow.

His production provides five matches. Damian Kapica, Michał Rybak, Paweł Zygmunt, Patryk Krężołek, and Szymon Skrodziuk. Kapica and Zygmunt are outstanding players capable of playing outside of Poland, while Patryk Krężołek came in at 11th on my ranking and is already a 20 goal scorer in the PHL. Rybak has shown some potential, but never stepped up his game to the next level, while Szymon Skrodziuk had a strong U20 season, but has often been stuck on poor Opole and Janow teams further hurting his development. The matches bold very well for his future projection.

 

brynkus 2
Brynkus goal vs. Janow

 

Brynkus brings a lot to the table, with good size, strong playmaking ability, and a good skater. He really makes the most out of his opportunities at the offensive end. He has the creativity and vision that a lot of Polish players lack. He hasn’t shown it much at the professional level, though part of that is in his deployment. It also may be harder for his game to thrive at the next level as defenders improve and make fewer mistakes. He also proved to be a solid net-front presence this year for Krakow. He still has a bit to go before he can be a top contributor on a PHL team, but based on his play at only 19, I have no doubt he’ll reach that level.

Brynkus could have a huge role next year in the Krakow line up as the team has been hurt by the COVID-19 outbreak. While it appears Krakow has brought back Kapica and is close to deals with Kasper Bryniczka and Mateusz Rompkowski. The team will mostly be comprised of young players. Outside of those three veterans, Cracovia has Antoni Dziurdzia, Dawid Musioł Igor Augustyniak, Łukasz Hebda, Łukasz Kamiński, Mateusz Bezwiński, Patryk Gosztyła, Robert Kowalówka, and Sebastian Brynkus under contract. These young players are going to make up the core of Cracovia Krakow this year. Brynkus will really have a chance to have a shining role in the line-up, which is something most other players didn’t get or won’t at such a young age.

Player #7

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2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #9

This year was a pivotal year for Polish hockey. For many players that frequented the list last year or in the years past it was onto full-time professional hockey in Poland or testing their skills in another countries highest junior league, while plenty of players arose to challenge and cemented themselves as future pillars of the national team plenty of players couldn’t live up to their expectations causing drastic changes to the rankings.

This is not the time I wanted to start the list, as the World Championship and U18 World Championship are a great way for players to improve their stock, the U18 World Championship being the first significant exposure for a lot of players. Due to the coronavirus, there are no more tournaments, and hockey is done for the year. Polish hockey itself faces an uncertain future as the virus will leave a lasting effect for years to come.

The real world is a very dark and scary place right now, but I want to look forward to the future while stuck at home. The future of the Polish national team is something that fans should be excited about. I have maintained for years that Poland has more young talent right now then it did any other time this century. I still stand by that opinion today. Poland saw their ace prospect prove himself in professional North American hockey, another NHL draft prospect rise, and a vast increase in depth. Today we start our ranking of the top 50 Men’s U23 players in Poland.

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on March 27th, 2020. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. While a majority of the ranking is my own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. 140 players were considered for the list and scouted. 80 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 scouting report.

Players 50-41 Players 15-13
Players 40-31 Player 12
Players 30-21 Player 11
Players 20-16 Player 10

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking

9 – Jakub Michałowski (D), 22, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (25, +16)

The son of a boxer was already guaranteed a substantial rise in the rankings this year after continuing to cement himself on the Jastrezbie back end. He is a very talented defensive first guy that will give forwards trouble as they try to rush to the net.  His rise on my list only became bigger with his late appointment to team Poland at the Olympic qualifiers. Poland had their back against the wall when national team regulars Kamil Górny and Mateusz Bryk both dropped out of the tournament so close to the first match. Poland went into the tournament naming only one replacement in Jakub Michałowski. The red and white eagles only had a total of six defensemen at the tournament, there were no backups at all.

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Jakub Michałowski goal vs. Tychy

Facing a KHL team in your IIHF senior debut is quite the task for a young player. Michałowski had already been starting to become a frequent player on the Polish men’s team with appearances at non-IIHF events. Still, now he had to make his senior IIHF debut on a large stage with almost zero room for any mistakes. In the first two games, when Poland faced lesser competition in the Netherlands and Ukraine. Michałowski really did well and held his own. You saw why even at such a young age, he already has over 150 PHL games, but in the final game against Kazakhstan, as the speed was ramped up, you saw the creeks in his game start to form, as he takes part of the blame on both of the blue and yellow’s goals.

On the first Kazakhstan goal, the speed of another Kazakhstan forward beat Michalowksi in a footrace around that net. He was then able to again get a pass past him, which resulted in an easy tap in. Though on that goal, his partner should have the scorer tied up, I’m not really sure what is going on in the slot.

kazak goal 2

Later the speed of the Kazak forwards pushed the Polish defensemen into an awkward situation. Michałowski tried to play the middle and then get low to try and block any pass that was going to potentially come through, but the pass beat him, and he fell in a desperate attempt to stop it. Kazakhstan failed to score on the initial play, but both Polish defenders were now vastly out of positions, and Kazakhstan banged in an easy rebound. Either way, it became clear watching that game, that Michałowski was pretty overwhelmed at times.

kazak goal 3

Valtonen still relied on Michałowski heavily. He finished fourth on team Poland in ice time with just under 18 minutes a game. On the boxscore, he recorded one assist and four shots at the tournament.

The 6’2 Jastrzebie native recorded seven points (2-5-7) in 48 games this season with JKH GKS Jastrzebie. He also had two assists in nine games at the Visegrad Cup. As he has continued to gradually improve his skills, the shutdown defensemen has earned his spot on team Poland. When pushed to his extremes against a literal KHL team in Kazakhstan, there were cracks in his game, but I would expect that from any young defensemen. Despite the plays, I pointed out there were plenty of strong moments in those games as well.

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Jakub Michałowski assist vs. Janow

He also more than held his own in the PHL this year. He has the size, is a good skater, and has good awareness. His offensive skills have also come a long way, though it will never be a significant part of his game as of the shutdown role he is usually given. The more experience he gets versus top opponents, the better he will be. This was really the first season he had numerous tests against stronger opponents outside of Poland. Michalowski has the potential to be deployed against other team’s top lines, but still has ways to go to reach that spot.

Player 8

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Belarus Club Neman Grodno Signs Krystian Dziubiński and Oskar Jaśkiewicz

Two significant contributors to the Polish national team are going to be trying their hand abroad this year in Belarus. Forward Krystian Dziubiński and Defenseman Oskar Jaśkiewicz have both signed one year deals with Neman Grodno.

At 32-years-old, this is the first time that Krystian Dziubiński will be playing abroad in his senior career. He did play high school and junior hockey in the United States. Dziubiński has played in the PHL since 2008, racking up 578 games, and 514 points (243-271-514). The Nowy Targ native has also been an irreplaceable member of the national team, appearing at IIHF senior events for Poland in 12 straight years. Last year, he played with Podhale Nowy Targ recording 60 points (29-31-60) in 53 games, a new career-high. Dziubiński had made his intentions of playing abroad known after the PHL playoffs were canceled.

Per Planetofhockey.com, Oskar Jaśkiewicz will be joining his national teammate for his first trip abroad. The 24-year-old two-way defenseman is one of the best Polish defensemen right now. The Nowy Targ native had spent his entire career with Podhale Nowy Targ, up until he signed with GKS Katowice last season. A big part of his signing in Katowice was experienced head coach Risto Dufva, who controversially left mid-season. Jaśkiewicz recorded 13 points (2-11-13) in 49 games this year with Katowice. He also recorded a goal and two assists at the Olympic qualifiers.

This will be a valuable experience for both players. They will gain more experience against stronger competition regularly. This was also a big deal for former national team forward turned agent Krzysztof Zapała, as these are the first two clients of his to sign a deal with a stronger league outside of Poland.

Neman Grodno is one of the top clubs in Belarus. They have won four championships this decade and finished first or second in the regular season every year since 2016. The team will also be playing in the Champions Hockey League this year. Grodno is also where GKS Katowice captain Grzegorz Pasiut played from 2016 to 2018.

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10 Possible Tomek Valtonen Replacements for Team Poland

Things can move really fast in Polish hockey. One second Tomek Valtonen fails to earn promotion at the World Championships and leaves Podhale, leaving people wondering if he is the right coach for Poland. The next second he leads Poland to an upset win over Kazakhstan to move on in the Olympic qualifiers. His victory at the Olympic qualifiers had many people back on the Valtonen train as he was entering his second World Championship leading team Poland. Of course, in the end, everything was canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. But it seemed like the relationship between the PZHL and Valtonen had vastly improved. Despite no longer being under contract, Valtonen was still planing to coach Poland at the final round of Olympic qualification, along with seeming open to a contract extension.

Everything was looking good for Poland, then came the rumors of him possibly joining the team that took the loss in his biggest international career win. It is currently being reported that Tomek Valtonen is a candidate to take over as head coach for Barys Nur-Sultan in the Kontinental Hockey League, along with the head coaching duties for the Kazakhstan national team. At the end of the day, that is a much better job then what Poland can give the young coach.

If Valtonen gets the job, Poland will need to find a new national team leader. National team head coaches can be hard to predict. Sometimes there might be a natural candidate that is the same nationally of the team, or you get crazy outside hires like Ted Nolan. With that said, this list is nothing more than some coaches I think fit or would have a chance at taking over the reins of Poland. The first five are more realistic candidates with the bottom five being more out there candidates with little to zero chance.

1. Piotr Sarnik

One of Poland’s top coaching prospects is former national team forward Piotr Sarnik. Sarnik mostly played with Cracovia Krakow and GKS Tychy during his playing days but has been a vital member of the coaching staff for a different GKS team after his playing days. Sarnik is currently the head coach for GKS Katowice after taking over mid-season last year. Before that, he served as an assistant coach for Katowice since 2017. The 43-year-old is also the head coach for the Polish U20 team. While I might not agree with Sarnik on everything, there is no doubt his resume is quite impressive with a potential national team spot in the future coming soon.

2. Krzysztof Majkowski

I don’t think you could find someone with a more similar career to Sarnik in coaching. Majkowski was a former Polish defenseman appearing at a few non-IIHF events while playing his entire career with GKS Tychy. After retiring in 2013, he joined the team as an assistant coach and served in that role until mid-way into last season, when Andrej Husau re-signed mid-season. This gave the 42-year-old longtime assistant his first chance to lead a team. GKS Tychy continued to dominate, like years past, finishing atop the regular-season standings again. Majkowski has also served as an assistant coach on the Men’s senior and U20 teams. He was a candidate to take over as Poland’s head coach before Valtonen was hired in June 2018.

3. Tomasz Demkowicz

Demkowicz has been an essential part of hockey in Sanok, serving as the team’s head coach while still playing at times during his career. After his playing career was done though, he went into coaching full time. His biggest achievement being the head coach of Sanok for their championship season in 2014. He also led Polonia Bytom during their bronze medal season in 2017. He has always been busy with the national team as well, serving as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s U18 squad, along with the senior women’s team. Since 2018, he has served as the head coach of the Polish U18 squad. Where he won gold and promotion in 2019.

4. Robert Kalaber

Maybe the perfect candidate is in Poland, but not Polish. Slovak head coach Robert Kalaber has led JKH GKS Jastrzebie since the 2015 season. In that time, he has taken Jastrzebie to the finals once while making Polish players, especially younger players, a priority and essential part of his line up. Kalaber deserves a lot of credit for helping to develop the wealth of young talent that Jastrezbie has. This year may have been his best despite a disappointing run in the PHL playoffs. This was one of his best years coaching in Poland because he won the Visegrad Cup and the Polish Cup. He is also the head coach for the Bulgarian national team.

5. Jacek Płachta

What is once old is new again. There is no doubt that Jacek Płachta took the Polish team to heights that Ted Nolan and Tomek Valtonen failed to achieve. Płachta has also continued to grow as a coach, returning to Germany, where he was an assistant coach in the DEL2, and a head coach for Crocodiles Hamburg in the Oberliga the past two seasons. Plachta himself said in an interview to Hokej.net never say never when it came to returning behind the Polish bench. He also was reportedly close to landing the GKS Katowice job before Risto Dufva accepted the position.

6. Nik Zupančič

The Slovenian head coach is the biggest reason for Unia Oswiecim’s turn around this year. He legit made Oswiecim an excellent destination for players in just one year. He is returning to the team once again this season, and keeping most of his core intact, it seems. Well, it doesn’t sound like he wants to be away from his home too long, and he has offers from inside Slovenia. Maybe the national team job could convince him to stay in Poland. He has a long career coaching the Slovenian men’s team at the senior level both as a head and assistant coach.  It may be hard to get him to cross enemy lines over to the Polish side, but no coach has impressed as much in their debut season in Poland.

7. Andrej Husau

Andrej Husau made GKS Tychy into a winning machine and wanted to coach team Poland when Valtonen landed the job. Though he left GKS Tychy on some uncertain terms mid-season. The 50-year-old head coach has yet to take another job and has a great resume. I was a huge fan of the idea of Andrej Husau leading the national team and even thought at points he should have received the job over Valtonen. It is hard to say whether or not the PHL championship-winning coach would return to Poland, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

8. Ernest Bokros

Bokros also applied for the job in 2018 but did not get it. The 60-year-old is a staple of the Slovakian national team. He has served as the assistant coach on their World Championship teams and has held basically every role for their u20 and u18 national teams. He also served as the head coach for HC Zlin in the Tipsport Extraliga for five years. Bokros has had plenty of other head coaching jobs across Czechia and Slovakia, but the biggest one for Poland to pay attention to is his work as head coach of Team Slovakia U20. This past year Bokros served as the general manager for MsHK Zilina in the Slovak second league. Poland could potentially convince the strong junior coach to take the reigns of the national team and help shape Poland’s future.

9. Glen Hanlon

Hanlon was reportedly interested in the 2018 opening, but that interest never went too deep. After that initial interest, he did coach the Hungarian team DVTK Jegesmedvék, who play in the Tipsport Liga. Hanlon has served in a head coach role for Belarus, Slovakia, and Switzerland senior men’s teams. Not to mention being the head coach of the Washington Capitals in the National Hockey League. He has already signed on as the head coach for Krefeld Pinguine next year in the DEL. Quite a few Polish prospects play in Krefeld. He brings a lot of name value and experience to Poland, and could be what Poland thought they had in Ted Nolan.

10. Daniel Tkaczuk

The Polish-Canadian forward was once a top prospect in the NHL after being a sixth overall pick in the 1997 NHL draft. While Tkaczuk would reach the NHL with the Flames in 2000 for a 19 game stint, that was the height of his playing career in North America. He went on to have a great career in Europe with strong performances in Germany, Finland, and Italy. He finished his career in 2011 after splitting the season in the Austria second league and Elite Ice Hockey League. After his playing career, he joined the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League as an assistant coach. He stayed in the role until 2015 when he moved over to the Kitchener Rangers. Since 2016, he has worked as a skill and assistant coach for the St Louis Blues organization both at the NHL and American Hockey League levels. There is practically zero chance of him ever being remotely interested in the Polish job, given his position with the defending Stanley Cup champs. He is still a promising young coach with Polish roots that could teach players offensive skills that would take Poland to the next level.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #10

This year was a pivotal year for Polish hockey. For many players that frequented the list last year or in the years past it was onto full-time professional hockey in Poland or testing their skills in another countries highest junior league, while plenty of players arose to challenge and cemented themselves as future pillars of the national team plenty of players couldn’t live up to their expectations causing drastic changes to the rankings.

This is not the time I wanted to start the list, as the World Championship and U18 World Championship are a great way for players to improve their stock, the U18 World Championship being the first significant exposure for a lot of players. Due to the coronavirus, there are no more tournaments, and hockey is done for the year. Polish hockey itself faces an uncertain future as the virus will leave a lasting effect for years to come.

The real world is a very dark and scary place right now, but I want to look forward to the future while stuck at home. The future of the Polish national team is something that fans should be excited about. I have maintained for years that Poland has more young talent right now then it did any other time this century. I still stand by that opinion today. Poland saw their ace prospect prove himself in professional North American hockey, another NHL draft prospect rise, and a vast increase in depth. Today we start our ranking of the top 50 Men’s U23 players in Poland.

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on March 27th, 2020. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. While a majority of the ranking is my own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. 140 players were considered for the list and scouted. 80 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 scouting report.

Players 50-41 Players 15-13
Players 40-31 Player 12
Players 30-21 Player 11
Players 20-16

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking

10 – Dominik Jarosz (F), 22, JKH GKS Jastrzebie (24, +14)

Jarosz has always been among the top forward prospects in Poland, it seemed every season the 6’2 forward was a prime breakout candidate due to his great speed and size. This year he started off hot, immediately scoring three goals at the RT Torax Cup in August. He followed this up with an impressive Visegrad Cup registering five points (3-2-5) in nine games. Then the cherry on the top of his remarkable season was a 23 point (9-14-23) season in 53 games. A new career-high for Jarosz.

Jarosz 1

This was sixth among all u23 skaters in the PHL this year and seventh in points per game among u23 skaters. Though eight points of his points were against Janow and PZHL U23. 15 points versus quality teams is in line with his past years, but for me, I was able to overlook this for quite a few reasons. The PHL was stronger this year, so even keeping consistent with past years is a solid goal for young players, especially as ice time or prime powerplay time might have gone to imports. Next was his performances away from Poland, recording multi-point games versus teams in the Chance Liga and Tipsport Extraliga.

A big part of his of this is his fantastic offensive awareness, he reads defenses really well to make the right play while scoring or setting up teammates. Like a lot of young players, these things need to happen more consistently. His all-around game and better offensive senses put him above a lot of other young Polish forwards. Jarosz has a much higher ceiling than other forwards in a similar situation. Thought his most likely outcome is top-line forward in the PHL, with a middle-six role on the Polish national team.

Jarosz 2

Jarosz is an interesting talent, he seems to have all the tools to be one of the top guys in Poland, but he is overshadowed on his own team by the fantastic young forward depth that Jastrezbie has. While I think his most likely outcome is a top player in Poland, he has the toolset to possibly be a great player outside of Poland. The Rybnik native currently doesn’t stand out above other players though of similar status. Despite how good he is other players outshine him, thus he doesn’t earn as many chances on top lines and top powerplay opportunities. I would love to see him have a chance at being one of the top guys on a team somewhere just to see how he would do. 

Player #9

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Hockey Making A Comeback in Poland’s Comeback City Łódź

The city that could play one of the most significant parts in the future of Polish hockey doesn’t even have a PHL team, and there are no signs that one may be coming any time soon. So why does Łódź matter so much then in the scope of Polish hockey? At 682,000 plus people, Łódź is the third most populated city in Poland. In the PHL, only Kraków (2nd) and Gdańsk (6th) rank inside the top 10 most populated cities and have a PHL team. If hockey really starts to take off in Łódź, it could mean big things for PHL, especially when it comes to getting the league back on television.

lodzpelen (1)

The city of Łódź was one of the largest industrial centers in Poland, especially for textiles,  during the 1960s and through the early 90s. As with many other industrial cities, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe left these cities devastated. The city began to suffer significant population losses, and the textile industry practically vanished. The city started to rebound though in the late 2000s. More and more foreign companies and investors have arisen in the Polish city. The city is renowned for its film school and even nicknamed HollyŁódź due to this school and its name being pronounced woodge.

mural_lodz_minatura_23_

The city continues its long comeback. Former textile mills turned into shops and restaurants, giving parts of the city a hipsterish vibe. Along with amazing pieces of street art that have become common on the older buildings. Piotrkowska Street remains a popular shopping and tourist destination. As the local economy has improved, the re-emergence of strong sports clubs has as well. The city hosted the 2009 Eurobasket, along with being home to one of Poland’s top rugby teams.

From 1967 to 1991, the city also hosted a hockey team. LKS Łódź played in the top Polish league. During the 60s and 70s, the team was quite good, often finishing anywhere from fourth to sixth in the league, while also capturing bronze three times, and finishing second once. Polish national team defensemen and Łódź native Jerzy Potz led the team on the backend. In the 80s, the team started to falter, often finishing seventh in the league. Homegrown national team stars like Piotr Zdunek departed for stronger clubs. The team was relegated to Poland’s second league for the first time since 1968 a year after their debut season. After two years in the second league, they would earn promotion to the top level again in 1990. After a 4-38 record though in that season, the hockey team would completely disappear, and the senior hockey squad was liquidated.

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Through the early 90s and early to mid-2000s the only relevancy Łódź had to the hockey world was being the birthplace of Michal Zajkowski,  Sweden’s 2003 World Junior goalie. The Łódź native moved to Sweden from Poland when he was six years old. While LKS Lodz was battling to return to the top of Polish hockey.  Zajkowski spent most of his career in the Svenska hockeyligan (SHL), with MODO Hockey. He bounced around some lower European leagues at the tail of the end of his career but never played in Poland. As the last thing that gave Łódź any relevancy to the hockey world was winding down his career, a new team in Łódź was forming.

Hockey in Łódź didn’t completely die when LKS Łódź left the hockey map in 1991, only three years later LKH Łódź was founded in 1994 by a group of Łódź hockey supporters that were led by sports writer Wojciech Filipiak. This club exclusively focused on the youth side of hockey. 19 years later, the senior squad would be reformed and compete in Poland’s third tier of senior hockey. Just like to approach to junior hockey, they took things slow and steadily built a foundation, but then some quick jumps started to happen.

Maybe these jumps happen because of how solid their groundwork to begin was, but it happen quick. Their youngest teams quickly became top dogs in the Czerkawski Cup, winning it twice in 2018 and 2020, while finishing third in 2019. Their star goaltending prospect and Łódź native Maciej Miarka was named to the 2018 Polish U18 Men’s team. He would be the starting goalie in 2019, along with becoming the first player from the Łódź junior program to play in the PHL. The most significant jump was the senior team moving up to the Polish first league, which was now transformed into a mostly U20 league called the Młodzieżową Hokej Ligą (MHL). The team was able to attract quite a few sponsors along with partnering with former NBA player Marcin Gortat’s athletic school in Poland.

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Photo: Grzegorz Gałasiński

Łódź found itself on the doorstep to the top league of Polish hockey this year. Of course, this was a massive jump as Łódź would be facing off against some of the top junior teams and systems in all of Poland. Former Łódź player Tomasz Matuszewski and player-coach Yuri Zenkov had a tall task in front of them. Tymoteusz Lewy returned to Łódź after playing in the Torun junior system. Lewy posted 27 points (18-9-27) in 24 games, which was 19th in the league. Piotr Ciechanowski returned to Poland after being a strong producer in Danish and German junior ranks, though he only played five games with the club. The team also brought in Russian born defensemen Denis Salnikov, who spent the previous year in the Western States Hockey League. The team also had a few players from Gortat’s school. In total, 44 players suited up for a game this year in Łódź.

Despite trying hard to build a competitive roster, the results were as expected, the team finished second to last in the league. Only picking up four wins in 24 games. While these results are not great, and the average score was a 7-3 loss. This was year one, and they jumped up to compete with top junior teams like JKH GKS Jastrzębie and teams with stronger senior rosters like Sanok, who compete in the third Slovak league as well. Every game was going to be a major uphill battle for the team. Despite the rough results, the future looks bright for Łódź.

The team seemed poised to be a strong recruiter in the import market again, along with their junior roster continuing to develop. Three Łódź players were named to Polish u18 roster lists. Forward Arkadiusz Karasiński, defensemen Adrian Drustinac, and goaltender Tomasz Grobelkiewicz were all appointed to teams last season at various points. Drustinac and Grobelkiewicz standing a strong chance to make the team, after being named to the final roster before the U18s. Grobelkiewicz and Karasiński only appeared in six combined games for Łódź this year in the MHL, while Dusrstinac was a regular defenseman for the team.

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These three are not the only young players making great strides. Poznan native Jakub Biernacki, who spent time in the Łódź junior system, finished 12th in scoring in Germany’s second U17 league.  Oliwier Kowalczyk made the Zietara Polish Eagles team that plays in the youth Quebec Interventional tournament. Łódź’s u12 squad finished first in the Żak Młodszy KPOZHL with an astounding plus 322 goal differential in 14 matches. The team has a lot of promising youth talent that they should be able to establish a robust senior foundation.

The Łódź area is also starting to have an impact on women’s hockey. Polish national team and Gdansk defensemen Natalia Kaminska was born in Łódź, while promising prospect Magdalena Łąpieś played with the Łódź’s boys U12 and u14 squad, before moving to the Gdansk women’s team.

Hockey in the city took another significant step with the addition of a senior team, and while it may be a long time till the next step is taken. The youth talent they are starting to produce is outrageously good for a club of their size. Last year only seven Polish clubs had a player named to the Polish U18 team. Only five of those clubs had more than one player. Clubs like Łódź are not supposed to produce national team quality talent, but they have! Even rarer when you consider two of them are goaltenders. There is potentially something special that is building in Łódź. Hockey is making a comeback in Poland’s comeback city.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

 

Dawid Zabolotny Moves to New Oberliga Squad

Dawid Zabolotny will be staying in the Oberliga for a fourth straight season. The Polish-German goaltender has signed on with the EC Hannover Indians on a one year deal. Hannover finished fourth last season in the North division of the Oberliga.

The former JKH GKS Jastrzebie starting goalie has played in the third tier of German hockey since 2017. Last year with Deggendorfer SC, he recorded a .879 sv% and 3.46 GAA, while among the leaders for goalies in ice time and shots faced. The 26-year-old goalie has been named to a few non-IIHF Polish senior team rosters but has yet to face in-game action.

In the team’s press release, Head coach Len Soccio commented on the signing, With David we were able to guide our dream player to Hanover for the position of the goalkeeper. We have been watching him for a long time and had it on the slip. I am very happy that he will join our team in August.” (Translated from German).

Hannover had a desperate need for goalies after both of their previous netminders departed this offseason in free agency. The team announced in the same press release they also signed 23-year-old German goaltender Lukas Schaffrath. Schaffrath served as a back up on Herner EV 2007 last season playing nine games.

Zabolotny is the third Polish goaltender that will be playing aboard this season. He joins Ondrej Raszka and Michael Luba. Raszka recently signed with Trinec in the Tipsport Extraliga but is expected to play in the Chance Liga Luba is signed with Cholet in the second tier of French senior hockey.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #11

This year was a pivotal year for Polish hockey. For many players that frequented the list last year or in the years past it was onto full-time professional hockey in Poland or testing their skills in another countries highest junior league, while plenty of players arose to challenge and cemented themselves as future pillars of the national team plenty of players couldn’t live up to their expectations causing drastic changes to the rankings.

This is not the time I wanted to start the list, as the World Championship and U18 World Championship are a great way for players to improve their stock, the U18 World Championship being the first significant exposure for a lot of players. Due to the coronavirus, there are no more tournaments, and hockey is done for the year. Polish hockey itself faces an uncertain future as the virus will leave a lasting effect for years to come.

The real world is a very dark and scary place right now, but I want to look forward to the future while stuck at home. The future of the Polish national team is something that fans should be excited about. I have maintained for years that Poland has more young talent right now then it did any other time this century. I still stand by that opinion today. Poland saw their ace prospect prove himself in professional North American hockey, another NHL draft prospect rise, and a vast increase in depth. Today we start our ranking of the top 50 Men’s U23 players in Poland.

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on March 27th, 2020. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. While a majority of the ranking is my own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. 140 players were considered for the list and scouted. 80 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 scouting report.

Players 50-41 Players 15-13
Players 40-31 Player 12
Players 30-21
Players 20-16

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking

11 – Patryk Krężołek (F), 22, GKS Katowice, (21, +10)

Krężołek was the ultimate net-front presence in Polish hockey this season. The 6’1 forward will win any battle for the puck in front of the net and has the art of tipping pucks down. He reminded me of former Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmström. This truly should earn him some national team consideration just to help with the powerplay.

Krzelok 1

While his net-front presence was the biggest thing I saw out of him this year, he is not a one-trick pony by any means. If the puck is on his stick and there is even a millimeter of an opening his accurate shot will find a way to bury the puck. He is a goal-scoring machine that has only become more dangerous with each passing season. Krężołek will likely be a consistent 20 goal scorer in the PHL, and maybe hit or at least flirt with 30 goal years.

PK 2

Krężołek posted new career highs this year with GKS Katowice. In 53 games, the former KTH Krynica junior player posted 20 goals and 10 assists. This was the first time he hit 20 goals in a year, which is very impressive when you consider the increased quality of the PHL this year, along with the fact he played six fewer games when compared to 2018-19. This led all U23 players in goals, and he finished fourth in points.  He did seem to struggle in games outside of Poland though, at the Continental Cup and Visegrad Cup tournaments, he would post just one assist in 13 games.

One of his more impressive feats as well was looking at the Janow effect. Janow was so bad this season it inflicted quite a few point totals, but zero of his goals came against Janow. Only one of his goals came against PZHL U23, meaning pretty much all his goals came against quality competition. That is something that has been really hard to find in the PHL this year with how many multi-point games young players posted against Janow and PZHL U23.

His career up to now has been a journey where the goal-scoring machine has faced his fair share of hurdles. He missed a majority of the 2017-18 season, including the U20 World Championships. Missing years like that can be a major blow for a young player as it is so important to their development. It didn’t seem to affect Krężołek at all who came back and did what he did best, ruin goalie’s save percentages.

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He currently faces another hurdle this offseason. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, GKS Katowice released all their players on long term contracts as a cost-cutting maneuver. This means the young forward is now a free agent. He reportedly is being courted by both GKS Tychy and JKH GKS Jastrzebie, while Katowice is still hoping he would return on a new deal. His free agency should be one of the most interesting deals in Poland this offseason. If he goes to somewhere, where he’ll get ice time and powerplay chances I have no doubt he’ll repeat and grow on his success from this season. GKS Katowice put him on their first line and he more than excelled in the role.

His potential is a hard one to chart. Looking at how other players have fared in their age 21 seasons, we only see that nine other players have posted a 20 goal season at that age since 2000-2001. This list is an impressive one featuring Bartlomiej Neupauer, Damian Kapica, Damian Słaboń, Grzegorz Pasiut, and Teddy Da Costa. Of those ten players to record a 20 goal season in their age 21 season, Krężołek has the lowest assist and points per game totals.

pk 5

His points per game total is the 54th highest by an aged 21 player since 2000-2001. He has 29 production matches during this time span, the most popular outcome among these players is a top 6 forward on a PHL team, with national team careers ranging from regular to a bit sporadic, but not accomplishing much outside of Poland. Which is how I would describe Krężołek’s potential. He is going to be a great player in Poland, that should be on the national team in a top-nine role with powerplay time. I feel he has one of the highest floors among any player on this list, but is also the closest to reaching his ceiling. His ceiling isn’t bad at all either, as their not many players who will be able to record the goal numbers he does.

Player #10

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #12

This year was a pivotal year for Polish hockey. For many players that frequented the list last year or in the years past it was onto full-time professional hockey in Poland or testing their skills in another countries highest junior league, while plenty of players arose to challenge and cemented themselves as future pillars of the national team plenty of players couldn’t live up to their expectations causing drastic changes to the rankings.

This is not the time I wanted to start the list, as the World Championship and U18 World Championship are a great way for players to improve their stock, the U18 World Championship being the first significant exposure for a lot of players. Due to the coronavirus, there are no more tournaments, and hockey is done for the year. Polish hockey itself faces an uncertain future as the virus will leave a lasting effect for years to come.

The real world is a very dark and scary place right now, but I want to look forward to the future while stuck at home. The future of the Polish national team is something that fans should be excited about. I have maintained for years that Poland has more young talent right now then it did any other time this century. I still stand by that opinion today. Poland saw their ace prospect prove himself in professional North American hockey, another NHL draft prospect rise, and a vast increase in depth. Today we start our ranking of the top 50 Men’s U23 players in Poland.

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on March 27th, 2020. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. While a majority of the ranking is my own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. 140 players were considered for the list and scouted. 80 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 scouting report.

Players 50-41 Players 15-13
Players 40-31
Players 30-21
Players 20-16

Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking

12 – Klaudiusz Libik (D), 19, Sparta Sarpsborg U21, (11, -1)

Libik has long been one of my favorite Polish players. I think he is immensely talented with exceptional two-way abilities. This is always especially impressive when you consider he didn’t start playing hockey till he was 12 years old. This was only his sixth year of playing hockey. He has a natural talent for the game that is obvious, but it seems a few problems are starting to catch up with him. One is his lack of experience compared to other players. His bumpy junior career in Norway has also seemingly affected his development. In Norway, Libik has bounced between Sparta Sarpsborg and Stjernen Hockey while also being bounced back and forth between playing forward and defensemen. This was the first season in a bit where he was able to really just play defense, only playing one game at forward.

In total this season, he had 13 points (3-10-13) in 41 games. I think his stats are fascinating when you break down the numbers behind them. Libik played for two teams this year. Neither was very good, especially not Stjernen. Stjernen Hockey U21 only had a total of two wins this year in 38 games. Libik had seven points (3-4-7) in 16 games. His seven points would have ended tied for eleventh on the team. This is astonishing when you remember he left the team two months into the season. With Sterjen, he played all 16 of his games on defense. In 14 of them, he was on the team’s second pairing, with the other two being on the third pairing. All his points came on the second pairing. The more striking thing is when you look at the difference between which side he lined up on. When the right-handed defenseman is lined up on the left side, he has two assists in eight matches. Libik playing on the right side has five points (3-2-5) in eight games.

He moved over to Sparta into November and recorded six assists in 25 games. Sparta was not a great team either this year finishing eighth in the league. In his 25 games with Sparta, we saw him line up on the right side only nine times, left side fifteen games, and one game at left wing. He had four assists on the left side, and two assist on the right. When he was on the top pairing, he recorded four assists in eight games, but only two assists in 13 games on the second pairing.

Going through his season game by game this year to try and understand his production was well worth it. It also was needed to try and see how he stacked up versus his competition, as his unique career doesn’t mean comparables can be assumed right away. In regular-season competition, his 11 points (1-10-11) rank thirty-second among all U21 defensemen, and tied for fifteen among U19 defensemen. Among his production matches that stayed active players after the junior-aged 18 season, a lot of them take their baby steps into Norway’s top and second senior leagues. Libik’s inexperience may not see him reach the senior level so quickly, but it appears when given the opportunity to play higher minutes, he excels at them. The right side appears to be where he is more comfortable as well.

Libik has continued to represent Poland at numerous U20 tournaments, including at the IIHF U20 D1B World Championship, where the 6’1 defenseman recorded one assist in four games. One of the big things I noticed about him this year, in my small amount of film, was being more aggressive when it came to shooting the puck. In Poland’s game against Hungary, he fired a shot from the point that Jakub Lewandowski was able to tip and give Poland a 1-0 lead. It appears that was true in his club season as well, firing 88 shots in 41 games, just over two shots a game, which is way up from 30 shots(.77 shots per game), in 39 U21 games last season.

Libik assist

Libik is continuing to get more confident on the defensive end, while also still improving his offensive side. He isn’t lacking on the size end and should continue to get better while gaining more experience. His junior status in Norway also gives him a very unique development and style that no other Polish player really has. I still think Libik is a big part of Poland’s future on defense and don’t imagine his senior debut is that far off if he continues his current development.

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.

 

2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #15-13

This year was a pivotal year for Polish hockey. For many players that frequented the list last year or in the years past it was onto full-time professional hockey in Poland or testing their skills in another countries highest junior league, while plenty of players arose to challenge and cemented themselves as future pillars of the national team plenty of players couldn’t live up to their expectations causing drastic changes to the rankings.

This is not the time I wanted to start the list, as the World Championship and U18 World Championship are a great way for players to improve their stock, the U18 World Championship being the first significant exposure for a lot of players. Due to the coronavirus, there are no more tournaments, and hockey is done for the year. Polish hockey itself faces an uncertain future as the virus will leave a lasting effect for years to come.

The real world is a very dark and scary place right now, but I want to look forward to the future while stuck at home. The future of the Polish national team is something that fans should be excited about. I have maintained for years that Poland has more young talent right now then it did any other time this century. I still stand by that opinion today. Poland saw their ace prospect prove himself in professional North American hockey, another NHL draft prospect rise, and a vast increase in depth. Today we start our ranking of the top 50 Men’s U23 players in Poland.

Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on March 27th, 2020. Players are judged based on a combination of career history, current play, and potential. While a majority of the ranking is my own opinion, numerous people in the Polish hockey world contributed their thoughts on players. 140 players were considered for the list and scouted. 80 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 scouting 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 2019, change in ranking

15 – Igor Smal (F), 20, Lotos PKH Gdansk, (22, +7

Smal continues the steady rise up the ranks of Polish players. Smal originally was playing junior hockey in Sweden but returned to Poland in 2017 to continue his career. This year the center set a new career-high in PHL points with 12 (6-6-12). 2019-20 was also a new career-high in games with 47. He possesses good size, keen offensive awareness, with great hands. The 6’0 Gdansk native has the makings of a promising player. He started off strong but fell off as the season went on. Consistency is the biggest thing about his game that will need to improve. Smal is in an excellent situation for this as well. As he was able to move up and down the Gdansk lineup last year, even getting a go on the top line at times. Gdansk is the exact kind of opportunity that will allow him to play a lot of valuable minutes. Smal was also a valuable part of team Poland at the U20 World Championships, where he recorded six points (3-3-6) in five games.

Igor Smal

14 – Jakub Prokurat (F), 19, Krefelder EV 1981, (40, +26)

A Polish player being one of Krefelder U20’s leading scorers is a very common trend, and that continued with Jakub Prokurat. This season the 18-year-old forward led Krefelder in points after posting 43 points (18-25-43) in 32 games. His production also never dropped off and continued to rise during the year. This was good for fifth in the entire DNL U20, the top U20 league in Germany. It was fourth in points per game, among players with 15 games played. The top-level DNL U20 has been in effect for three seasons, and Prokurat’s year ranks as the 12th best season by an 18-year-old skater for points per game. I like to see how players with similar production faired. There are two matches for Prokurat; German Sebastian Hon and Latvian Patriks Marcinkēvičs. This season, Hon was able to turn pro in the DEL2, while Marcinkēvičs was a top scorer in the American NCDC.

His production in the DNL U20 bolds well for his development. Prokurat also made the Polish U20 squad this year but would go pointless in five games with two shots. I don’t believe he was given a significant role with the team, through the games I was able to stream, but I still would have hoped to see him produce against some lower competition. It will be interesting to see where Prokurat plays next year. I hope he would be able to get some reps in the Oberliga for Kredfleder’s U23 team. His patience with the puck at times is an attribute that should really benefit him at the pro level. His size may be a concern for some senior teams.

13 – Bartłomiej Jeziorski (F), 22, GKS Tychy, (10, -3

Jeziorski has long been one of Poland’s best forward prospects, but as he turns 22, his PHL career has not progressed like I thought it would. Jeziorski has played in the PHL since 2015-16 when he was 17. In the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the forward posted over 20 points. In 2019, he posted 17 points in 55 games. This season, Jeziorski posted 20 points (11-9-20) in 47 games. He really started the year off strong, looking good in the Champions Hockey League, and really an offensive force during the beginning of the PHL season, but fall off after the season went on, which was really a common trend among young Polish players this year. Jeziorski really needs to be able to consistently make an impact. He has a lot of great tools at his disposal, being 6’3, great hands, good skater, and an accurate shot. There are times like this goal here versus GKS Katowice, where you see his skill on display.

Jeziorski

There is just too often where his play like that is nowhere to be found. Often his goals come from his solid net-front presence and bounces going his way. He has the ability to drive plays, so I would like to see that more. Jeziorski definitely has impressed national team head coach Tomek Valtonen though, who included Jeziorksi on all three senior national team rosters this year, including the Olympic qualifiers.

Jeziorski 2

Player #12

If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.