Blackhawks Europe prospect update for 3/15: Stjernborg, Safonov, Saarela head to playoffs

Several of the Blackhawks’ prospects in Europe are heading for the postseason.

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


Antti Saarela, Lukko (Liiga)

Stats: 18 points (7 G, 11 A), 10 PIM, 93 SOG in 41 games played

Saarela scored just one point in his last five games, as the young forward missed more than a month between Feb. 6 and March 9. Luckily, Saarela’s club, predicted correctly that he’d be back before the playoffs, and indeed, Saarela found his way back before the start of the postseason. Lukko made the playoffs for the first time with Saarela posting three assists in five games, sending Saarela back to the postseason for the first time since 2021. when he played with Ilves. The playoffs begins with Luuko scheduled to play Helsinki in the first round.

Riku Tohila, JYP U20 (U20 SM-sarja)

Stats: 24 points (18 G, 6 A), 65 PIM, 126 SOG in 42 games.

Tohila finished up his season with his U20 team by scoring two points in the final game, a 9-6 victory over Tappara. Tohila substantially increased his production from his draft year in his draft-plus-one season, and looks good as a developing project. Tohila was taken with the Blackhawks’ seventh-round pick in the 2022 draft and still needs to prove himself outside of the Finnish juniors. But, for his final season in the U20 league, it wasn’t a bad way to graduate. Tohila finished the season with 18 goals on 126 shots, a 14 percent shooting rate that’s not horrible by any measure — nor is it an unsustainable one.


Ilya Safonov, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL)

Stats: 37 points (19 G, 18 A), 13 PIM, 127 SOG in 64 games. Playoffs: 2 points (1 G, 1 A), 5 PIM, 13 SOG in 6 games.

The captain of Ak Bars, Safonov finished his season with 11 points in his final 10 games, as AK Bars went on a seven-game winning streak from Feb. 5 to 19. Safonov scored in six of the seven contests, including goals in five of those six. Ak Bars drew a first-round matchup with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, a real team with a logo of a weirdly grinning wolf/polar bear thing — think the Wild’s logo, but after buying what Walter White is selling. Ak Bars beat back that monstrosity in a six-game series, including a 3-2 overtime loss. Safonov scored just two points in that series but will look to improve on that in the second round.


Victor Stjernborg, Växjö Lakers HC (SHL)

Stats: 8 points (1 G, 7 A), 0 PIM, 23 SOG in 42 games.

Stjernborg finally scored his first goal of the season in the regular-season finale on March 9, a 5-0 victory over Brynas IF. Stjernborg had two points in that game, breaking a seven-game scoreless streak and ending his season with his first multi-point game of the SHL year. Vaxjo, as the first seed in the SHL, secured a first-round bye in the postseason, meaning the team has yet to touch the ice in the playoffs. However, that will change soon as Vaxjo draws the No. 10 seed Lulea, a series that kicks off on March 16.


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

Stats: 1 point (0 G, 1 A), 18 PIM, 41 SOG in 32 games.

Krutil finished his season in the Czechia main league and scored his first point about a month prior in the second Czechia league. Krutil played more than 20 minutes in his final game, not a horrible mark, as he saw a massive downgrade from five points in 21 SHL games last year to just one assist in 32 games between two Czechia leagues this season. Krutil, a former fourth-round pick in 2020, likely will not be coming back to the U.S. any time soon, as he scored zero points in seven games with the IceHogs last year and remains unsigned.