We are getting close to the end of the rankings as we hit the top ten. This group grades out as stars in Poland at a minimum and are players that will push the national team forward. The three players in this article have had success outside of Poland in foreign junior leagues. Two are still playing junior hockey abroad, while one has returned to Poland and made an impact.
Players had to be under the age of 23 and at least 16-years-old on June 1st, 2022. 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. Skaters must have played at least five games to be considered. While most of the ranking is my opinion, numerous Polish hockey people contributed their thoughts on players. 169 players were considered for the list and reviewed. Eighty players received a ranking.
Rank – Player Name (Position), Age During Next Hockey Season, Team (Ranking in 2021, change in rankings)
10 – Michał Kusak (F), 18, HC Karlovy Vary U20, (49, +39)
Last year, I was excited to see what Kusak could do in Czechia. He had moved to a strong team in HC Karlovy Vary, and I expected big things from the young forward. But due to the pandemic, we only got four U17 games. In 2022, Kusak made the U20 squad for HC Karlovy Vary and proved that he belonged. Thus a big jump in the rankings. In his first taste of U20 hockey, he posted 18 points (5G-13A-18PTS) in 33 games. Among players in their NHL Draft eligible year, his 18 points were tied for 22nd, and his .55 point per game average was 25th.
I start to get excited about his year when you look at his player production comparables. He is a rare player with high-end matches, with 4.35% of his matches going on to play in the NHL. 43.5% of his matches played in Czechia’s top league or higher. Then at the bare minimum, 82.61% went on to play in the Chance Liga, the second level of hockey in the country. It is not often we get someone with any NHL matches. While I don’t see that as a high possibility, I’m excited about a player who projects to be an impact forward in Czechia. You look at the leaders of the Polish national team now, and quite a few play in the Extraliga or even the Chance Liga.
On top of all this, he finished his season wit the highlight of his year, when he represented Poland at the Division 1 Group B U18 World Championship. Side note, he was snubbed for the Polish U20 team. At the U18s, he formed a strong trio with Dominik Kolat and Krzysztof Macias. In five games, he finished with two goals and one assist. He came in third on team Poland in points.
He did suffer a severe injury to miss the back half of the Czech U20 season, but it appears he will be back to 100% for next season. He is committed to return to HC Karlovy Vary U20, and I am interested to see how his second U20 year could go.
9 – Krzysztof Bukowski (F), 20, Genève-Servette U20, (11, +2)
One of two Bukowskis in our top ten, the younger brother comes in lower ranked for the first time. Bukowski had another solid year in Switzerland. He made what I thought was a lateral move in the offseason going from Kloten U20 to Genève-Servette U20, which is still in the top Swiss U20 league. With Genève-Servette, Bukowski was going to be trained by former National League player and Swiss U18 team assistant coach Eric Walsky. Genève-Servette U20 would not fare as strong in 2022 as they did the previous year but fought off relegation.
Bukowski slightly improved his production from the previous season. In 46 games, he scored 11 goals and assisted on 14. Three of his assists came in four relegation games. His 25 points were tied for 59th among all skaters, and it was tied for 18th among skaters in their Draft Eligible +2 season. Regarding production comparables, 6.25% went on to play in the top Swiss league, the National League. While 22.9% went on to play in the National League or the second level of Swiss hockey, the Swiss League.
Bukowski finally made his IIHF debut for Poland, playing at the U20 Division 1 Group B World Championships. In five games, he scored once and picked up an assist. Those two points were tied for second on the team in scoring. He was one of Poland’s better forwards at the tournament and looked well above many other Poles. Now out of his U20 career, it will be interesting to see what is next. His brother went from lower Swiss leagues to stardom in the PHL. Could Krzysztof Bukowski try that same path, or will he try to be a professional in Switzerland? As a final note, he holds a Swiss Player license and wouldn’t count as an import. This license allows him to avoid a major hurdle to playing professional hockey in the country.
8 – Fabian Kapica (F), 20, Podhale Nowy Targ (16, +8)
Our second-highest ranked U20 player on the list, Kapica, was the standout U20 player of the PHL this year. He signed on with Podhale Nowy Targ for the 2022 season and was moved up and down the lineup. Kapica had one of the best U20 seasons in the past few years on a team desperate for offense. The 19-year-old posted 10 points (5G-5A-10PTS) in 30 games. His 10 points led all U20 players in points and goals, and he was tied for the lead in assists. It was also tied for seventh on Podhale in scoring.
Kapica also played in the MHL for 14 games and scored a big 20 points (9G-11A-20PTS). His 1.43 point per game average was sixth among all U20 skaters. His most impressive outing was at the U20 World Championships. There he was easily Poland’s best forward at the tournament. You could really see him play with so much confidence and offensive ability. On the low-scoring Polish team, he finished with a goal and assist, and it was a pretty nice goal too.
So far, the situation in Podhale is still unclear, and it is unknown if they will have a team next year. Kapica has consistency issues he will have to improve in the 2023 season, and I would not be surprised if that kept other PHL teams from poaching him and giving him a substantial role. The young forward is on a try-out with Cracovia Krakow. He did sign a two-year deal with Podhale at the end of the 2021 season. We will have to see how the rest of the offseason turns out in Nowy Targ to know where Kapica could play.
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