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.
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2019, change in ranking
20 – Jakub Blanik (F), 19, Zaglebie Sosnowiec, (39, +19)
Blanik took a gamble on himself this offseason when he left JKH GKS Jastrzebie for Zaglebie Sosnowiec in the hope for more chances. JKH GKS Jastrzebie deserves some credit for allowing such a strong junior player to leave as it was best for their development. People in Poland always rave about how hard of a worker that he is. That is what you see on the ice as well. At 5’7 and only 146 lbs, his size will always be his most significant obstacle. But he has tons of playmaking ability. Without a doubt, he probably sets his teammates up as well as any Polish prospect. Blanik was able to play in 30 PHL games this year between PZHL U23 and Zaglebie Sosnowiec, a majority with Zaglebie Sosnowiec. In his 17 games with Zaglebie Sosnowiec, he posted seven points (1-6-7). He was held pointless in 13 games with PZHL U23. He represented Poland at the U20 World Championships, posting one goal and three assists in five games. Blanik also got 19 games in the MHL recording 47 points (12-35-47).
19 – Maciej Witan (F), 19, KH 58 Sanok, (15, -4)
Witan is pretty similar to Blanik in a lot of ways, but Witan edges him out in most categories. He is an inch taller than Blanik, and his offensive skills are more well rounded. Witan has a shot that can be lethal, along with being able to make it easy for his teammates with crisp passes, and not to mention a nice set of hands. Witan has stayed a part of Sanok’s team for the past three seasons. This year he recorded 14 points (2-12-14) in 17 games with Sanok. He also posted 44 points (16-28-44) in 18 MHL games, along with five points (3-2-5) in six games for PZHL U23. Given his performance with PZHL U23, I hope to see him getting some more meaningful reps next season. Witan will also be returning to the U20 World Championship squad after a six-point (1-5-6) performance in five games this season. He did fall this year because of the strength of other PHL performances, I also would have liked to see his production in the Slovakia third league reach the heights of his first year, where he recorded 21 points (6-15-21) in 21 games.
18 – Jan Sołtys (F), 20, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (2, -16)
There is no player that I feel has a better all-around game than Sołtys. He can do it all, he is excellent at both ends of the ice. He will always be hounding the puck and making his presence felt on the ice. It legit almost makes me sad to have him drop in the rankings by so much. This was kinda a lost season for Sołtys as the talented forward had to undergo knee surgery in November. This is a massive disappointment for the Jastrzebie native as he was scheduled to have a much more significant role in the club this year. His season started off strong in exhibition games versus foreign clubs. He did appear in 16 games for JKH GKS Jastrzebie, posting five points (2-3-5). The 5’11 forward did go pointless in five games at the Visegrad Cup, I was hoping the tournament would have been a nice showcase for him. His PHL production was also down compared to the previous year. Losing such a significant development year will be rough for Sołtys, but he is already so talented that he should have no problem bouncing back.
17 – Grzegorz Radzieńciak (D), 22, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (20, +3)
Radzieńciak continues to grow into a stronger and stronger defenseman each year. He continues to gain more confidence and better awareness. This year he was even able to jump into the offensive play a bit more and show his offensive traits. The 5’11 defenseman cemented himself as part of the Jastrzebie defense playing in 44 games. In those games, he recorded six points. He also posted both a goal and assist in eight Visegrad Cup games, his first goal at the senior level. In the MHL, he also recorded five points (2-3-5) in four games. The Lublin native really has all the traits to make him not just a solid professional player, but a defenseman that will be able to make an impact on the international stage. I have no doubt that Radzieńciak will continue to improve and become more confident in his play. He got in some national team games last season, and there should be more to come.
16 – Olaf Bizacki (D), 21, GKS Tychy, (23, +7)
Bizacki continues to rise up the ranks for Polish defensemen. At 5’7 he can be a bit small for his play at times, but his short stature never stops him from playing an aggressive two-way game. He definitely appeared more confident in the league this season, and that is not surprising given he is now a veteran of almost 150 PHL games and having played in the league since he was 17. This year though, he played primary with GKS Tychy, notching ten points (3-7-10) in 43 games. He also played six games with PZHL U23, where he picked up another assist. His 11 points this year were a career-high, and he only had nine career PHL points coming into this season. The Tychy native recorded one assist in two Champions Hockey League games as well. If Bizacki continues to improve like he has at both ends of the ice, the national team will no doubt follow.
If you want to keep up with all the offseason news, make sure to follow us on Twitter @PolandHockey and like our Facebook page.