Tag: Karol Sterbenz

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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2020 Top 50 Men’s U23 Players. #40-31

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

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

40 – Szymon Mularczyk (F), 21, KH GKS Katowice, (61, +21)

Mularczyk was able to escape a terrible season with Polonia Bytom and come out strong with GKS Katowice. The 5’11 forward has always seemingly been on the cusp of being a really promising player. He is the first player on this list to suffer from Janow’s effect on PHL scoring. Janow was so bad this year that players were able to post new career highs thanks to a couple games against Janow. This year Mularczyk posted 14 points (4-10-14) in 40 games, up from his total of nine points last year. He posted five of those points against Janow. Which without them is the same as his nine points from last year. It creates a muddy area of how much growth did he really have statistically? It was still twelfth in points among all PHL U23 skaters.

Mularczyk

39 – Marcin Płachetka (F), 19, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (26, -13)

Płachetka earned a very high ranking last year due to a fantastic international performance. I was expecting big things out of him this year, but it was a pretty quiet club season. He was able to play in 13 PHL games, twelve with PZHL U23 and one with JKH GKS Jastrzebie, where he recorded a single assist. In the MHL, he didn’t produce much better with five points (2-3-5) in 11 games. He did have nine points (3-6-9) in eight games while appearing for the Polish U18 squad that plays in the third tier Czech U20 league. He received some U20 team consideration and scored versus Lithuania at a four nations U20 tournament.

38 – Bartosz Florczak (D), 18, UKS Sanok, (55, +17)

Florczak would have really shown his two-way abilities off at the U18s if he had the chance. He has a lot of talent but is still very raw at times. His development time will probably be a bit uneasy compared to other defenders, but you really have the makings of a good player. He got an extended look for the U20 World Championship squad, and even I had him on the squad as a seventh defenseman. In total this year, he posted two assists in nine games for PZHL U23. Well above a point per game at the U18 level, and nine points (3-6-9) in 13 MHL games for Sanok.

Florczak

37 – Łukasz Kamiński (F), 21, Cracovia Krakow, (18, -19)

Kamiński really excelled in the PHL last year as a 19-year-old recording 17 points (9-8-17) in 47 games. The league took a step up this year, and Kamiński didn’t step up with it. This year he recorded four points (1-3-4) in 41 games. He found himself mostly relegated to the fourth line. He needs to play, and if Krakow isn’t going to give him a more substantial chance, it might be time to take a similar route to Jakub Blanik, who left JKH GKS Jastrzebie for Zaglebie Sosnowiec. He has a really nice offensive game, and I don’t understand why Cracovia didn’t try to use it more.

Kamiński

36 – Karol Biłas (D), 18, UKS Sanok, (Unranked)

From one talented Sanok two way defensemen to another. It really is astounding how quickly Sanok has started producing excellent youth talent with no PHL club. I think that Slovakia’s third tier league is an excellent place for young talent, and you’ll see more Sanok players on this list because of that. It lets young players play against men, but not be overwhelmed, and the stakes a lower, allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them. Something that defensemen like Biłas desperately need to do to grow.

Biłas

Biłas needs more work on the defensive end but has really shown a jaw-dropping offensive game. He is a lot like Florczak in being a little raw on both ends, but I like his offensive side more. No matter where he went, the 5’11 defensemen put up numbers, 20 points in (4-16-12) 19 MHL games, 14 points (4-10-14) in eight U18 games, seven assist in 15 Slovakia3 games, and both a goal and assist in ten PZHL u23 games. This earned him a spot on the Polish U20 team for the U20 World Championships, where he scored one goal on six shots in five games.  I have to imagine he would have put up some outrageous numbers for a defenseman at the U18s. I believe Biłas will be quickly rising up this list for years to come.

35 – Patryk Pelaczyk (F), 22, JKH GKS Jastrzebie, (46, +11)

At 6’5, Pelaczyk stands as the tallest Polish forward in the entire PHL. He continues to learn how to use his size more to his advantage. In 45 games, he recorded 11 points (5-6-11). This year he was able to play a majority of the season with JKH GKS Jastrzebie, he assisted them to a winning the Visegrad Cup with one goal in six games. The big forward is earning his spot on an extremely competitive Jastrzebie roster. His size will always provide value to any team, but he is starting to bring so much more.

Pelaczyk

34 – Jan Krzyżek (F), 19, MOSM Tychy, (44, +10

Krzyżek is really developing as a solid all-around player. He has solid offensive instincts, solid shot, good forechecking, and great size at 6’3. The Aachen native has played in the Tychy system his entire career but has not been able to reach with PHL with GKS Tychy yet. This season he appeared in 18 PHL games for PZHL u23, recording three goals. In the Czech U20 third league, he recorded 12 points (7-5-12) in 8 games for Poland U18. In the MHL, he recorded 30 points (15-15-30) in 15 games for Mosm Tychy. Krzyżek represented Poland this year at the U20 World Championship, recording three assists in five games. He should be one of the key forwards on the team next year.

33 – Karol Sterbenz (F), 17, Okanagan HC Europe U20, (Unranked)

This year there were quite a few Polish players that joined Austrian junior leagues. Olaf Koslicki stayed with the Vienna Capitals, while Karol Sterbenz and Leon Zacharewicz joined the Okanagan HC program. European Okanagan HC has multiple teams that compete in top Austrian junior leagues. The teams are made up of mainly international players from all over Europe, including the highest newly ranked player on this year’s list.

As a 16-year-old, Sterbenz split the year between Okanagan’s U18 and their U20 team. At the U18 level, he recorded 22 points (8-14-22) in 21 games. While at the U20 level, he posted 14 points (6-8-14) in 24 games. This ranked thirty-second in the league, and eleventh among players under 18. Sterbenz represented Poland earlier this year at a U18 and U17 tournament. He would have most likely made his IIHF debut for Poland at the U18s.

32 – Konrad Filipek (F), 20, UKS Sanok, (68, +36)

Filipek makes a massive jump on the list after a fantastic year with Sanok. The explosive forward improved on his 18 point performance last year with 25 points (11-14-15) in 19 games. This was 39th in the Slovakia third league and the most by any U20 player in the league. He also proved he was too good for Poland’s MHL by recording 61 points (30-31-61) in 20 games, an average of just over three points per game. He also appeared in six games for PZHL U23 recording one assist. I really hope to see Filipek get some more significant chances next year, as he was so offensively dominant at the lower levels, and did fine with three points (2-1-3) in five games at the U20 World Championship.

31 – Sebastian Lipiński (G), 20, Unia Oswiecim, (19, -12)

Lipiński is the highest-ranked goalie on the list but had somewhat of a down year compared to expectations. After a very promising appearance at the previous U20 World Championship, Lipiński struggled mightily recording a .819 SV% in four games. The worst among goalies that played at least 40% of their team’s minutes. In the PHL, Lipiński split the year between Unia Oswiecim and PZHL U23. In 18 total games, he posted a .876 sv%.

Lipinski

With Oswiecim, the Torun native played in 11 games, starting 10 and coming in relief in one. In total, he posted a .897 SV%, including three shutouts, two versus Janow, and one versus PZHL U23. His save percentage drops to a .871 without the games versus Janow and PZHL U23. His save percentage was .858 with PZHL U23. While the numbers may not look great, Lipiński is really the only goalie that gets the chances that he does, because of his talent. Since 2000, there have only been 15 seasons, where a U20 goalie played 10 or more games in the PHL, two of those belong to Lipiński.

Players 31-20

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