(Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh installment in Chicago Hockey Now’s Blackhawks of Tomorrow series about Chicago Blackhawks prospects. Today we look at forward Ilya Safonov).
Thousands of miles away in one of the better professional leagues outside of North America, 22-year-old Ilya Safonov is scoring big goals and notching a lot of points in a “men’s league.” He’s showing skills that remind of another Russian, albeit it one who played for Chicago’s arch-nemesis. But Detroit Red Wings comparison be damned, Pavel Datsyuk was a late round pick who surprised and make his way to the NHL, taking the league by storm.
Oh, and Datsyuk was taken in the sixth round as the 171st overall pick. Safonov was the 172nd pick. The team Datsyuk finished his Russian career with before he jumped to the NHL? You guessed it–Ak-Bars.
Coincidental? For sure. But imagine if the career timeline follows the same narrative.
Safonov had soft hands and made opponents look silly at times with the puck handling he pulls off. Just watching some of his highlights sees a kid who could be absolutely dazzling if it all transfers over to North American ice. With 19 goals and 37 points, Safonov not only blew past expectations, but absolutely amped up the fan base and analysts keeping watch.
Safonov’s contract doesn’t expire until the conclusion of the 2024-25 season and another good season will certainly give Chicago some competition in signing him away. But if those numbers indeed improve, the Blackhawks can’t let what appears to be a dynamic player get away.
In what is already a deep pool of centers, the Blackhawks might have a chance in not only hoodwinking 31 other organizations with a talented center, but finally change the narrative on what has been a lackluster draft history. Safonov earned valuable playoff experience, notching six points (3-3) in Ak Bars playoff run that ended as runners up. Add to it that he’s now wearing the “C” and it looks like the Blackhawks absolutely hit a home run on a late round pick.
Datsyuk once coined himself the “Magic Man.” Coincidences aside, Safonov could very well follow in his footsteps and be the next on-ice magician.
But if the upward trajectory continues, the Blackhawks will need to perform a magic trick of their own to get Safonov over to Chicago.