Every year there are fresh faces in the PHL. Sometimes import signings are big-name players with NHL or KHL experience, while others are from lower North American or European minor leagues looking to take the next step in their careers. Some become team staples, while others are gone in less than a month. I always enjoy checking out every import signing in the PHL. Today I wanted to look at each team’s most interesting new foreign player—keyword interesting, not the most impactful or best signing.
Cracovia Krakow – Ben Blood
Ben Blood is an American defenseman with an impressive resume. In 2007, he was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the fourth round of the NHL entry draft. He would then spend four years at the University of North Dakota. Following his college career, he would bounce around the North American minor league system, playing 80 AHL games and 50 ECHL games. He would primarily play in Liiga starting in 2015 and, in total, appeared in 300 Liiga games. The 6’4 defensemen spent last year in Austria in the ICEHL. The physical defenseman will surely be a force in the PHL this season.
GKS Katowice – Shigeki Hitosato
Hitosato is only the third Japanese player to appear in Poland, and he was very impressive at the World Championships that Poland hosted earlier this year. Over the past three seasons, the 5’6 forward has been one of the top producers for the Tohoku Free Blades in the Asia League and Japan Cup. The Tomakomai native was the captain of the Japan U20 squad and has since transitioned into one of the top scorers for the Japanese senior team. He already scored his first PHL goal two games into the year.
GKS Tychy – Alexander Younan
Finding good defensemen is more challenging than finding skilled forwards. Younan already has 228 games in the Hockey Allsvenskan and spent one season in the SHL. That kind of resume is not something you commonly find in the PHL. He is only the ninth defenseman to play in the PHL after playing at Sweden’s top level. Last year was his first year outside of Sweden, and he spent it in the ICEHL.
JKH GKS Jastrzebie – Bence Bálizs
With Patrik Nechvátal retiring, there was a need for a new number one in Jastrzebie. The new netminder came from an unlikely source in one of Poland’s biggest rivals in Hungarian Bence Bálizs. The Hungary national team goalie has spent his entire career in his home country, playing in the national league and for Hungarian teams competing in the ICEHL and Tipos Extraliga. You don’t see many players take their first trip abroad during their age 32 seasons. The five-time Hungarian league Champion is only the fifth Hungary-born player to play in the PHL.
KH Torun – Ervīns Muštukovs
Ervīns Muštukovs is the definition of a journeyman goalie. The 38-year-old has played in 13 professional leagues for 20 teams. He has represented Latvia at the Elite Division of the World Championship and reached the KHL with Latvia’s Dinamo Riga. Not only is he the clubs’ goalie, but he will also serve as goaltending coach for Torun’s MHL team. He is adding another two things to one of the longest resumes I have ever seen in hockey.
Podhale Nowy Targ – Lukáš Hvila
Lukáš Hvila is a legend in Slovakia’s top league. He has the fifth most games played in league history, with 969 games over 19 seasons. The 40-year-old hasn’t just played in his home country either. He made stops in Czechia, France, Kazakhstan, and Slovenia. That longevity as a player is extremely impressive. A couple of months into this year, he will turn 41 and play his first season in Poland. It also is his 24th season of playing professional hockey.
STS Sanok – Vladislav Lysenko
Vladislav Lysenko has a unique history in international hockey. The defenseman was born in Ukraine but developed in the Russian junior system. His time in Russia led to him eventually representing the Russia U18 team at the IIHF U18s and Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. He has played in his birth country for the past two seasons and has not represented Russia since 2013. It’s an interesting background, given Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine. This invasion led to Russians being pretty much blocklisted from the PHL. The 27-year-old defenseman has spent most of his career in Russia’s second league, the VHL, but has appeared in five KHL games.
Unia Oswiecim – Pavel Padakin
Ukrainian hockey had fallen a bit in a similar way to Polish hockey. Not many high-end players, but Pavel Padakin broke through the ceiling most Ukrainians faced. The Kyiv native worked his way up in Ukraine and earned a chance in the USA’s NAHL. He got noticed in the NAHL and would be drafted in the CHL import draft by the Calgary Hitmen. Following his junior career, he would attract the attention of the Philadelphia Flyers and sign with their American Hockey League club. After one year in the AHL, he would head to Russia and sign to the KHL. He would play in the KHL from 2016 to 2021, recording 76 points in 206 games, and earning all-star game honors in 2018.
Zaglebie Sosnowiec – Nikita Butsenko
Our last team didn’t bring in a lot of imports and is among the leaders in Polish players in the PHL. A lot of their imports are also familiar faces to PHL fans. One of those is Nikita Butsenko, who returns to Poland for the third time. The 32-year-old center has split his career between Ukraine and Poland, along with one season in Romania. He has recorded 77 points in 110 PHL games with Polonia Bytom and Sosnowiec. Butsenko is a leader of the Ukrainian national team and has always received interest from Polish teams every offseason.
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