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Blackhawks Europe prospect update for 1/10: Safonov’s stock improving

While several of the Blackhawks’ Euro prospects are struggling, Safonov looks like a better bet.

Ilya Safonov (No.24) of Russia seen in action during the...
Ilya Safonov in action during the Liga Stavok St. Petersburg Cup final match between Russia and Belarus
Photo by Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Checking in on the Chicago Blackhawks prospects currently playing in Europe.

Finland

Antti Saarela, Lukko (Liiga)

Stats: 12 points (6 G, 6 A), 8 PIM, 64 SOG in 27 games played

Since we last checked in on Saarela, he has scored five points in five games, including three goals. Saarela put 14 shots on goal in that time, bringing his shooting percentage to a much more reasonable 9.38 percent — up from 6 percent before Dec. 19. Saarela is playing third-line minutes for Lukko, the top team in Liiga, averaging about 14 minutes a night but getting north of 16 minutes some games.

Riku Tohila, KuePA HT (Mestis)

Stats: 3 points (1 G, 2 A), 0 PIM, 10 SOG in 4 games

The young Tohila, a seventh-round draft pick in last year’s draft, scored his first professional goal on Dec. 29 while on loan to KuePA HT of Mestis, the second-tier league in Finland. Tohila is mostly playing for JYP U20 this season, the Finnish developmental league for teenagers. Tohila has scored 21 points in 31 games for JYP U20, with 17 of those points being goals.

Russia

Ilya Safonov, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL)

Stats: 21 points (11 G, 10 A), 9 PIM, 90 SOG in 44 games

Safonov, drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 draft as an overager, is killing it in his third full season in the KHL. Safonov continues to look like something special, building on the results of last season with 21 points in 44 games played — he had just 12 in 43 last season. Safonov has slowed down of late, not scoring in his last six games and going without a shot on goal in his last two. Still, he’ll have plenty of chance to get going again playing for AK Bars’ third line, where one of his linemates is a former NHLer and brother of a former Blackhawks draft pick.

Sweden

Victor Stjernborg, Växjö Lakers HC (SHL)

Stats: 4 points (0 G, 4 A) in 26 games played

Stjernborg has not played additional games since the last update, but did captain Sweden’s World Juniors team, scoring a goal and an assist in seven games. Stjernborg also played top-line center minutes for Sweden in the tournament, including penalty kill time, resulting in his lone goal:

Czechia

Michael Krutil, HC Sparta Praha (Czechia)/HC Banik Sokolov (Czechia 2)

Stats: 0 points, 10 PIM, 24 SOG in 21 games

Krutil is struggling to score in either league, and even as a defenseman, that’s troubling. Krutil was a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft for the Blackhawks and scored five assists in 21 games last year for the Växjö Lakers in the SHL. The fact he can’t score now outside of that league is especially troubling, given that in his first taste of AHL hockey, Krutil tallied three assists in 21 games.