Tag: PHL

2022-23 PHL Standing Predictions

The hockey season is officially in full swing. The season finally starts after a crazy offseason involving wars complicating players and teams, teams backing out and then backing in, and everything else in Polish hockey. This year, in my opinion, should continue to show the strength of the PHL and how it has improved. That should already be seen across Europe with last year’s champions, GKS Katowice, beating the runner-ups of Switzerland, ZSC Lions. Will they repeat as champions, or will a new team take the crown?

9. Podhale Nowy Targ

Podhale will most likely be repeating as the worst team in the PHL. But this time, it is not an easy guess. Podhale is much better this year, especially with the additions of Kevin Lindskoug and Martin Przygodzki. Last year, Podhale won only three games, so their one win in four games this year is a promising sign. New head coach Juraj Faith has a lot of challenges to face, but they have done a solid job of assembling a roster of PHL veterans, young talent, plus quite a few random imports. While I think they will finish last in the PHL, I don’t believe they’ll be as bad as the last-place teams of the past.

8. Zaglebie Sosnowiec

Zaglebie Sosnowiec had an up-and-down off-season, which is how this season will probably go. I see them finishing in eighth place, where they were last year. Much of that will come down to how Patrik Spesny and Sebastian Lipinski perform in net. Spesny had a rough year in Sanok last season, while Lipinski has never had extended PHL playing time. The offseason additions of Jakub Witecki and Nikita Butsenko will be relied on heavily for the offense. I like what they’re doing on defense with some young additions that will finally get big chances. I approve of where they are going, but it is just not a winning team right now.

7. STS Sanok

Sanok had the roughest offseason of any team. Not due to anything with roster building, but their main sponsor’s building burned down. They originally had to back out of the PHL due to funding but were saved just a minute before midnight. The team brought in a whole new batch of Finnish players who will once again be relied on as team leaders. Ville Heikkinen has the potential to be a really solid producer while getting Kalle Valtola from GKS Katowice should really help on the backend. Unfortunately, losing the PHL’s leading scorer Jakub Bukowski and Radoslaw Sawicki is something I don’t think they added enough to overcome. In the third straight repeat, I have Sanok finishing seventh.

6. KH Torun

I have KH Torun also repeating their place from last year. While not exciting, that is just the bottom of the PHL. Only three players from their top ten scorers are returning this year. The Kalinowski brothers will be relied on heavily to step up their production. While young, Mark Viitanen is a big-body forward and has a lot of potential to be an impactful winger. The strength of this team is on defense. The addition of Jakub Gimiński will be a major key to competing with top clubs, and I am really excited to see the sophomore year of Eryk Schafer. The true key will be how well veteran Latvian goalie Ervīns Muštukovs holds up in net. Depending on how young players produce or imports turn out, Torun could stun a few teams.

5. JKH GKS Jastrzebie

JKH GKS Jastrzebie is the top team to me that had the most disappointing offseason. In net, I am very wary of Bence Bálizs as the starting goalie taking over for Patrik Nechvátal. Vitālijs Pavlovs, who was a key player last year, was surprisingly dismissed this season after one game. The team brought the well-traveled Josef Mikyska to replace Pavlovs in that top center role. Mikyska should be close to a point-per-game player in the PHL. Losing Frenks Razgals, Martin Kasperlík, and Roman Rác hurts a lot, and the forwards they brought in the replace them doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The big news was being able to retain star forward Dominik Pas. A strong Polish core should keep them towards the top, but I don’t know about contending.

4. Cracovia Krakow

Cracovia’s roster strength might change since I don’t doubt one or two players might be here just for the Champion Hockey League games. Still it was quite the offseason for Poland’s New York Yankees as they raided other PHL teams of top forwards like Martin Kasperlík, Mateusz Michalski, Patryk Wronka, Radoslaw Sawicki, Robert Arrak, and Roman Rác. Combine that with talented imports including Jack Walker, Marek Račuk, and Vojtěch Polák, and it is hard to see Cracovia not having a top offense. They retained their strong defensive core based around Ales Jezek, Jakub Saur, and Jiri Gula, and I’m really intrigued by the addition of American Ben Blood. In net Rok Stojanovič and David Zabolotny should be more than enough to lead this team to a potential title.

3. Unia Oswiecim

Oswiecim has a chance to lead the league in goals for. The additions of the acclaimed North American duo Alex Szczechura and Mike Cichy should guarantee them two top scorers. Pavel Padakin also has a chance to make a major impact in the PHL this year. These new imports add to already established top forwards Krystian Dziubiński and Teddy Da Costa who should lead the charge. Defense is not the strongest point of the team, but I really like the offensive potential of Pylyp Pangelov-Yuldashev from the back end, while veteran Latvian Aleksandrs Jerofejevs should provide stability. Linus Lundin is taking the starting role in goal, and while he boasts a .905 sv% in 106 HockeyAllsvenskan games, he has struggled with consistency in his career. The offensive firepower should be enough to carry this team to the top, with title dreams if they hold up defensively.

2. GKS Tychy

It feels like a season of transition for the former back-to-back champs. Last year, they finished fifth in the PHL and would lose in the bronze medal series. The team said goodbye to a lot of major imports and team leaders. Tyhcy brought in more than enough major replacements. National team members Bartosz Ciura, Filip Komorski, last year’s regular season goals leader Jakub Bukowski, and Oskar Jaśkiewicz all joined the team this offseason. Ondrej Sedivy and Roman Szturc should be solid imports addition to help the forward core. On the back end, getting Ciura back along with import Alexander Younan and Jaśkiewicz should be able to replace the losses there. Tomas Fucik has long been one of the best PHL goaltenders and I don’t see that changing. GKS Tychy is an easy pick to finish in the top two.

1. GKS Katowice

The reigning PHL champions did have a lot of talent stolen in the offseason, but I don’t see that preventing them from re-claiming their title. First, it starts in net, John Murray is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. They retained their national team core, which included Marcin Kolusz not returning to Podhale Nowy Targ after his loan last season. Niko Mikkola should also be an interesting addition to the team and give them an another offensive defensemen to pair on the power play with Kolusz.

Grzegorz Pasiut should continue to lead the team on the forward end, while Bartosz Fraszko and Patryk Krezolek are among the best young Polish forwards. Christian Blomqvist and Teemu Pulkkinen should be relied on heavily to produce. While Brandon Magee brings a lot of energy and should help drive play. Japanese forward Shigeki Hitosato was impressive at the Division 1 Group B World Championships, so I am excited to see what he is going to be in Poland. The team has to hope Igor Smal and Jakub Porkurat will take another step forward and contribute more offensively. It is hard to see the Champs not being the major favorite to repeat.

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The Most Interesting Import on Each PHL Squad

We are underway with another hockey year in Poland. This year the PHL is the smallest it has been in a while. Even though the PHL is down a couple of teams compared to the past few seasons, it is a very competitive year. Not every team is a championship contender, but no team will get blown out every game, and the top seeds losing to the bottom ones would not be a gigantic shock. 

There are two big reasons to thank for the competitiveness in the PHL. The first is how teams like Sanok and Sosnowiec have put together great young forward groups. The second reason is still the lack of an import rule. This allows every team in the league to add some strong players to their lineup. 

We wanted to take a chance today to look at the most interesting import on each PHL club. The keyword is interesting. We’re not saying these imports are going to be the top transfer for each club. Just that these are the ones, we found the most intriguing and are excited to follow. 

Cracovia Krakow – Collin Shirley

Canadian forward Collin Shirley takes the spot for Krakow. Outside of last year, North American players rarely join the PHL, with only one or two a season. Shirley was a longtime member of the Kamloops Blazers, eventually being named the team’s captain. He recorded 246 points in 352 WHL games. He later played in Canada’s university league and had a short stint in the ECHL last year. He has two sisters who have a chance to become future stars for team Canada. Both play for the University of Wisconsin and played for Canada at the U18s. His cousin Adam Beckman was a third-round pick of the Wild in 2019 and is set to play his first AHL season next year. Quite the hockey family. 

GKS Katowice – David Lebek

This one caught me by surprise. At 18-years-old Lebek has to be one of the youngest import signings in league history. The German-born forward is the grandson of GKS Katowice legend Maksymilian Lebek. He also has the height scouts love at 6’5 (196 cm), making him the tallest player in the PHL for the 2021 season. A young big forward with Polish roots would definitely peak the interest of quite a few PHL clubs and the national team, if he were to consider import status. Last year Lebek played in five games with Krefelder EV 1981 U20 in the top level of German junior hockey. 

GKS Tychy – Renārs Kārkls

Speaking of big boys, let’s talk about Renārs Kārkls. Kārkls is a Latvian defender at 6’5 (195 cm), the second tallest player in the PHL, but the biggest defender. The big 22-year-old has bounced around a little in his short career. This includes playing in the KHL, MHL, NAHL, and Alps Hockey League. He also represented Latvia at the U18 and U20 World Championships. Kārkls will have a chance to make a significant impact in GKS Tychy. This is especially true if he can repeat his .71 point per game average from last season in the Alps. 

JKH GKS Jastrzebie – Vitālijs Pavlovs

Jastrzebie saw a lot of their top young Polish talent depart recently, which means they would need to fill some spots with imports. The team has a very distinct Latvian taste, with six hailing from the Baltic country. That includes veteran Vitālijs Pavlovs. At 32-years-old, Pavlovs will be playing only his 3rd full season outside Latvia. Most of his career has been spent with the Latvian KHL team Dinamo Riga. The 6’4 forward recorded 41 points in 281 games with the club, 36th most games in club history. He did make sporadic appearances outside the KHL, with a loan to the Mestis, an early season in Kazakhstan, and a 34 point ECHL season in 2015. Last year after starting in the Latvian league, he moved to the top Austrian league, recording four assists in 12 games. It will be interesting to see what he can provide to the defending champs. 

KH Torun – Conrad Mölder

Torun’s new head coach Jussi Tupamäki has worked for the Estonian national team, so it is no surprise to see some Estonian players. New starting goalie Conrad Mölder is one of the more notable players with Estonian roots. At one point, Mölder was receiving some NHL draft hype after solid years in the Finnish junior system. He then took over as the starting goalie for China’s MHL team KRS Junior. He would then return to Finland, getting a Liiga game in, while starting in the Mestis for TUTO hockey. Last season, he was signed to play in the Tipos Extraliga but never played a game for HK Dukla Michalovce. He has already posted a shutout for Torun though. 

Podhale Nowy Targ – Pavel Novozhilov

This one was a bit hard, as only two new imports are on the Podhale squad. That is not to say Pavel Novozhilov doesn’t have an interesting career. Another player who was seemingly found out of nowhere by KH Torun. Novozhilov posted 10 points in 14 games for Torun to end the year and in the playoffs. Now Pavel moves over to Podhale for his first full PHL season. Before the PHL, Novozhilov played in 159 VHL games for five clubs, including in China and Turkmenistan. He was playing in Russia’s Saint Petersburg Student Hockey League when he signed to Torun. 

STS Sanok – Toni Henttonen

Toni Henttonen joins six other Fins on the Sanok roster. The 27-year-old played for SaPKo pretty much his entire career, both senior and junior hockey. SaPKo plays in the Finnish 2nd league, the Mestis. When it finally came time for his first game outside his home club, it was a step up when he played in the Liiga for the Ilves during the 2019 season. The following year, he recorded three assists in 16 games for Ässät also in the Liiga. Last season was the first time Henttonen did not play any games in the SaPKo organization. Now he is pretty far away from home as he suits up for Sanok, who will be counting on the winger to help their young forward core. 

Unia Oswiecim – Ty Wishart

No team had more big import signings than Unia Oswiecim, both poaching imports from other PHL clubs and free agency worldwide. The biggest one to me is veteran Canadian defensemen Ty Wishart. The Belleville Ontario native was a top prospect in the 2006 NHL draft. He was eventually selected 16th overall by the San Jose Sharks. He would go on to play 26 NHL games with the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. He did spend most of his time in the AHL for those organizations, recording 109 points in 329 games. After departing North America, Wishart has played in Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden. He joins the weird list of NHL first-round picks to play in Poland with Gilbert Brule and Wojtek Wolski. 

Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Nikita Mitskevich

We end off with another team that doesn’t have many new imports, but their new one was a big get. Nikita Mitskevich is a long-time defenseman in Belarus’ top hockey league. At only 26-years-old, he has played in parts of 9 seasons in the top league with 290 games and 74 points. His highlight season was in 2017 when he played in seven KHL games for Dinamo Minsk and played for the Belarus national team at a non-IIHF event. A solid young defenseman with potential that could shore up the team’s defense.

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