The departures from JKH GKS Jastrzebie continue, as the team has lost another one of their top Polish forwards. Radosław Sawicki has made the jump to go abroad signing with Shakhter Soligorsk in Belarus. This will be Sawicki’s second trip away from Poland in his career, after spending a junior season in the USPHL Elite.
Sawicki has long been considered a top young Polish forward, but only truly started to breakout in the past couple of years. After spending the early part of his career in Poland with GKS Katowice and KH Sanok, he moved over to JKH GKS Jastrzebie. In his two years with the team, he produced two above point-per-game seasons including 45 points (23-22-45) in 44 games in 2021. The 25-year-old also helped the green and white to their first PHL championship this season.
The 5’11 center in total recorded 177 points in 254 games with three clubs in Poland. On top of his one PHL championship, he also won a silver medal and and two bronze medals in the league. While I had my doubts about his 2020 season and how many points came up against weak teams. His 2021 season contained no such flaws. Its clear that the skilled center has high goals, as he told the Belarusian Extraleague A website, “In Jastrzęba I have achieved everything that can be achieved in Poland. I want to develop, so I must raise the bar for myself. I think Shakhtar and the Belarusian extraliga are very good places for this. I will come to a new country, a new culture and I will develop in hockey. Awesome! If I play as I expect, I will have a chance in the KHL – as part of Dynamo Minsk.“
Shakhter Soligorsk has been a force in the Belarusian Extraleague A since their arrival in 2010, the team has made 4 final appearances winning one championship. Last year the team finished second in the regulars season, eventually losing in the semi-finals. Sawicki will be the first Polish player in Shakhter Soligorsk’s history. The Sanok native will be the sixth Polish player overall to play in the top level of hockey in Belarus.
JKH GKS Jastrzebie was able to reach to the pinnacle of the PHL last season. It can be lonely at the top though, as the talent factory of Poland has suffered quite a few losses this offseason. The losses started at the top when top import Zack Phillips departed the team to move to the blue and white in Oswiecim. Then 23-year-old defensemen Jakub Michałowski departed for GKS Tychy. Now it appears their young trio of stars made up of Dominik Pas, Kamil Walega, and Jan Soltys will be trying their hand abroad.
Dominik Pas has signed with Tipos Extraliga squad HK Dukla Michalovce. They finished bronze last year in the top level of Slovak hockey. The team is coached by a familiar face in former Poland national team head coach Tomek Valtonen. The deal is a one year deal with a two month trial period. The home-grown Jastrzebie native recorded 10 goals and 22 assists in 49 games.
Meanwhile Kamil Walega is trying out with HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas of the Tipos Extraliga He will be training with the club and playing in preseason matches in the hopes of earning a contract with the club. HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas finished last place in Slovakia last year with only 6 wins and 44 losses. Last year the 6’0 forward, recorded 8 goals and 11 assists in 45 games.
The final piece of hte trio Jan Sołtys is also training with HK 32 Liptovsky Mikulas. He is exploring a few options in the Tipos Extraliga and Czech first league though. Sołtys is the youngest of the three forwards at 20-years-old. The two-way forward recorded 8 goals and 7 assists in 39 games this year.
Thanks to agencies run by former PHL players, we have certaintly see a huge rise in the amount of Polish talent taking their talents outside of Poland. For all three of these players it is a great chance to improve their skills, along with with reputation of Polish hockey. For JKH GKS Jastrzebie though, there depth as taken a major hit and as team gets ready to compete in the Champions Hockey League it will interesting to see how the team reloads.
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 Krakow – Patryk 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
The PHL continues, and so do our PHL predictions. We are now at the final three teams that all earn a nice shiny medal. Depending on how you look at it, these medals can be a huge disappointment. The silver meaning you finished second just a couple wins away from winning it all. While a bronze win means you didn’t even make the championship. For our rankings, that Bronze is a step back.
3. GKS Tychy
2019-20 Finish: 1st
The PHL will have a new champion, and it feels insane to be predicting that. On paper, the offseason went as good as it could. They retained the three-headed North American monster of Alex Szczechura, Christian Mroczkowski, and Mike Cichy. Goaltender John Murray once again is holding down the fort in net. While the team added further Canadians in Jason Seed and Jean Dupuy. Ladislav Havlík and Szymon Marzec also joined after solid years in Gdansk. The most significant addition though, was one of the best Polish players on the planet in Patryk Wronka.
So why am I not repeating them as the champions. Because those significant additions are about all that is left on a team that has become a bit stale. They’re not bad by any means, but everyone keeps getting better and better. While GKS Tychy has just slightly altered their roster year by year, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. Murray is a great goalie but beatable, as seen by his beginning five-game stretch to start this PHL season. Their defense is not that good still. It is more offensive focused, but they lost three critical defensemen from last year, and I would say they only replaced two of them.
On the offensive side, they have the big North American trio, Wronka, and Koromski. After that, depth is a bit dry. Jean Dupuy is an interesting import. He struggled in the EIHL but excelled in the Ligue Magnus. Something that doesn’t bold well based on past imports. Bartłomiej Jeziorski and Mateusz Gościński still really haven’t taken the next step in their hockey development, leaving a bit to be desired on the production end. Szymon Marzec is coming off a career year in Gdansk, but I would bet he doesn’t match that production.
On the bright side, there is a wealth of young talent in the GKS Tychy system. This is something that hasn’t been common in past years. In net, both Kamil Lewartowski and Jakub Zawalski have a lot of potential. Each of them has a chance to be a starter in the PHL eventually. Olaf Bizacki has been on my favorite defensive prospects for a bit now. His short stature is always going to limit his ceiling a bit. He has a strong way two-game, and if the offensive side keeps improving, he will find himself on the national team radar. Kacper Gruźla, Jan Krzyżek, and Mateusz Ubowski all appear to be close to being PHL regulars. Ubowski shows a lot of promise to be a great PHL player.
The team is at the top of the PHL mountain, there is no higher to climb, but that just means other teams are climbing and approaching the top of the mountain.
Role: The King Must Fall
2. JKH GKS Jastrzebie
2019-20 Finish: 4th
JKH GKS Jastrzebie is one of the teams that felt like it hasn’t experienced that many shake-ups in recent years. This year though, the team had a major shakeup, and it appears to put them in an excellent position to win a PHL championship finally. Artem Iossafov, Henrich Jabornik, Jesse Rohtla, and Ondrej Raszka all departed the club. Losing Raszka had to be the hardest as he is one of the best goalies the PHL has seen in a long time. The team responded to these losses with some of the most significant transactions, possibly in PHL history.
The first was bringing home Polish national team defensemen Mateusz Bryk after a few years in GKS Tychy. Bryk is the perfect piece to solidify a strong defensive presence in the team’s top 4. The team filled their void in net with former longtime EBEL starter Patrik Nechvatal. Marek Hovorka was the next to join on a two-year pact. Hovorka has been a great player in both the top leagues of Czechia and Slovakia. A highly respected player, his signing was some pretty positive attention for the PHL. Following Hovorka was another Slovak, Roman Rác, having shown a lot of production potential in Czechia.
Just before the season started, they made two more big additions. Jiří Klimíček was first added to shore up the defensive end. He represented the Czech Republic at the U18s and has been a solid player in France the past couple of years. Next was former Minnesota Wild 2011 NHL first-round pick, Zack Phillips. Phillips had a couple of decent years to start his AHL career but never seemed to take well to North American pro hockey. He has shown much more potential in smaller European leagues. He currently is an early pick to take the PHL scoring title.
JKH GKS Jastrzebie is the team that all PHL clubs should strive to be, and no one is ever going to come close to matching their young talent. The time for them to strike is now, as that young talent maybe soon leaving for larger leagues. The defense remains one of the best in the league, which should help some small uncertainties in the net. The offense is going to be so exciting this year. Phillips already has nine points in four games. The young talent is all there and healthy. I’m excited to see how Jan Soltys does in his return after missing most of last year.
So why second place? There is no reason for them to be in second place. They have the depth that only one other PHL club has or can outmatch. I have small concerns about the goaltending situations, but I think they will be more than adequate in net based on early performances. If it isn’t this year, JKH GKS Jastrzebie will win the title soon. Even if they lose a couple of young players, they have more waiting for their shot.