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.