One of my favourite cities to visit in the U.S., it's time for Chicago.
1. Alex Debrincat - Erie Otters
The Hawks did well to pick up Debrincat in the early 2nd round this year. The diminutive winger is a real offensive talent. The old saying goes, "if he were 3 inches taller, he would have been a lottery pick," and it applies here. Debrincat's best quality is his shot release IMO. He locates loose pucks so well and has such great anticipation in the offensive end. When you couple that with his release, he's a real "quick strike" player. Debrincat is also most definitely not afraid of playing in traffic, as a large majority of his 51 goals were scored close to the net or in the middle of the ice. Moving forward, he's going to continue to need to get stronger and quicker. He's by no means a weak skater, but adding even more explosiveness to his first few strides will make him that much more effective at the next level. Next year will be an interesting one for Debrincat. It seems likely that Dylan Strome will be in Arizona, which means that for the first time in his OHL career, Debrincat is not going to have a premier center getting him the puck. This will be a big test for him. Even if his offensive output goes down a bit, I think as long as he's a 90 point player (45/45), the year has to be considered a success.
2. Graham Knott - Niagara IceDogs
It wasn't a terrific year for Knott. He dropped from 25 goals to 12, and his points per game average also dropped. BUT, it's important to note that it was also a transition year for Knott as he was asked to play center this year. There were definitely growing pains there and I'm not entirely sure I like the move. Centering Niagara's 3rd line (often), Knott does show great two-way awareness and physical capabilities. His physical game really took a step forward this year, as he was more consistent in taking the body and using his size to his advantage. And I do think that he shows potential as a playmaking center. But I also think that his game is best suited to the wing where he can play a more simple north/south kind of game, work the corners/cycle, and patrol the crease for garbage (he's got good hands in close). With a new coaching staff in place for next year, it will be interesting to see if he shifts back to wing next year or stays at center. One thing is for sure and that's the fact that Knott will see more ice time next year (regardless of position). Niagara graduates many of it's core forwards and he'll be counted on to play on the first line (likely) and first powerplay unit. At some point (depending on Niagara's plans to rebuild), he could also be a trade chip for them (would be a very valuable acquisition for a team with Mem Cup aspirations). I think anything less than a 25/35 (60 point) season would be a disappointment for him, statistically speaking.
3. Roy Radke - Barrie Colts
Radke started out the year excellent. I thought he was looking much improved from the year prior and noticeably quicker and stronger. But as the season went on, his play really began to slip. As such, so did his place in Barrie's lineup. By the playoffs (where he went pointless), he was stuck on Barrie's 3rd/4th line and was used rather sparingly. At this point, Radke needs to find a niche. He's got great size, but he doesn't play with a ton of truculence. Would love to see him be more engaged as a physical player who can create offensive scoring chances through energy and grit. He definitely has good hands in close and I do think he has potential as a goal scorer. But things just haven't come together quite yet. As a 2015 draft pick, I think it's a no brainer that Radke will return to Barrie for his overage season. There, he'll be part of a rebuild and should definitely get more ice time and special teams time. He has the ability and size to score 30 in his overage year. Will he? I'm just not sure he'll be surrounded by a supporting cast that will encourage that. Will need to develop a lot next year to earn a contract.