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Blackhawks’ 1st-round-pick possibilities: European prospects to keep an eye on

Scouting reports for five European prospects the Blackhawks might consider with the 17th overall selection.

The 2020 NHL Draft won’t take place in an arena, but the Blackhawks’ 17th overall pick will be just as important as always.
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The 17th overall pick in the NHL Draft, which begins Tuesday (6 p.m., NBCSN), will be the Blackhawks’ 10th first-round selection during Stan Bowman’s tenure as general manager.

Bowman has selected seven North Americans and only two Europeans, but that’s not too out of line with league averages. Only nine of last year’s 31 first-round selections were European, and a similar imbalance is expected this year.

But that doesn’t negate the possibility of a European selection by the Hawks in 2020. After all, they took defenseman Adam Boqvist with the eighth pick in 2018.

In fact, some of the most intriguing prospects potentially in play at No. 17 are European. Here are five, with accompanying thoughts from Hawks scouting director Mark Kelley:

Click here for yesterday’s story on North American prospects the Hawks might consider.

Yaroslav Askarov — goaltender, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (Russia)

Easily the most discussed player in the draft, Askarov is the best goaltending prospect in years. He has dominated at every stage so far.

But goaltenders take a long time to develop and are difficult to evaluate, making Askarov a risky first-round pick. If he’s there for the Hawks at 17, however, he’d be hard to turn down.

“We’ve been watching Askarov for a few years now,” Kelley said. “What stands out about Askarov is the success he’s had, whether it be World Championships with the Russian team or just in his Russian league. He’s a big-time goaltender, and he has thrived in the big games.”

Rodion Amirov — left wing, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (Russia)

Amirov’s junior career in Russia is hard to assess because of the inconsistency within his game and because of the number of teams he has played on.

He has some holes in his game and needs to bulk up his 168-pound body, but Amirov is also a dynamic puck-carrying and puck-moving winger who excels in one-on-one situations.

“He’s a 6-1 [forward] with -really good puck skills, can skate, fun to watch,” said Kelley, who noted that the Hawks have watched him closely the last two years.

Lukas Reichel — left wing, Eisbaren Berlin (Germany)

Coincidentally, the Hawks played against Reichel in their exhibition against Berlin in September 2019.

Reichel went on to have a great rookie year against much older competition in the German league. His hockey intelligence and offensive vision are his strongest attributes, but he’s not as naturally athletic as other prospects in this conversation.

“Reichel had a really good year, played regularly for Eisbaren in the DEL, and then he was on that German World Juniors team that opened a lot of eyes,” Kelley said. “When you watch him, you see a lot of potential.”

Anton Lundell — center, HIFK (Finland)

Projections are all over the board on Lundell, a well-rounded but not particularly exciting forward. The NHL’s Central Scouting Service ranks him as the No. 3 European skater, higher than everyone else on this list, but other prognosticators put him in the 15-to-25 range of all prospects.

Regardless, Lundell had a remarkably productive year in the Finnish pro league last season.

“What stands out . . . is he has a pro game as a kid already,” Kelley said. “Over 200 feet, he’s very good offensively, plays off his wings very well, very responsible defensively.”

Noel Gunler — right wing, Lulea (Sweden)

Gunler is exceptional with the puck: His shots and passes are powerful and accurate, and he’s creative and elusive before getting to that point.

His work ethic and play away from the puck have been questioned, however, drawing comparisons — for better or worse — to fellow countryman Alex Nylander.

“We’ve been watching him for a couple of years,” Kelley said. “He’s a big winger who can skate, has a great skill set. He’s one of those prototypical Swedish wingers.”