With the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaching in mid-October, one Edmonton Oil King who has garnered a lot of second (and maybe even third) looks is one Jake Neighbours. Neighbours has been a highly touted draft pick who was ranked 26th on NHL Central Scouting’s January Rankings. With everything that has since occurred with COVID it is difficult to tell where Neighbours might have finished the season under normal circumstances.
One obvious concern with Neighbours, which might affect exactly where he is drafted, is that he’s not the tallest. At only 5’11”, Neighbours is a respectable height to be mixing it up in the WHL, but would be considerably shorter than many NHLers. That lack of height doesn’t necessarily prevent Neighbours from playing a physical game, but again the WHL has far more deviation in player heights and Neighbours is more solidly in the middle of those heights. And weights too, I suppose.
Neighbours joined the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings late in the 2017-2018 season. The season was a difficult one for the Oil Kings, but Neighbours (a former first round pick in the bantam draft) was a bright spot. Neighbours continued to impress in his first full season with the club. He added a successful stint with Hockey Canada’s U-17 program to his resume. Wearing an “A” for Team Canada at the last Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Neighbours earned a silver medal and returned to the Oil Kings ready to perform in his draft year.
Neighbours put up 70 points in only his second full season with the Oil Kings, a much-improved team from his late season call up. Neighbours was second on the team for points, sitting behind only overage player, Riley Sawchuk. Neighbours also increased his number of games played to 64. It is fairly safe to assume that Neighbours would have played at least a few more games down the stretch for the Oil Kings. Without the injuries which hampered his rookie season, Neighbours was able to consistently perform and earn steady minutes with some of the Oil Kings most offensively minded players. So far in 122 WHL regular season games games, Neighbours has 98 points, including 34 goals.
He has also 12 points in 16 playoff games. This is an interesting note because the previous season saw Neighbours manage 24 points in 47 games. Neighbours playoff performance definitely turned some heads as the Oil Kings made the Conference Finals against a domination Prince Albert Raiders team.
All That Other Stuff
For all that Neighbours’ offense is worth mentioning, it’s his sense of the game which stands out after two plus years of watching him. Even as an injury call up, Neighbours seemed to understand what the smart play would be. That’s not to say Neighbours consistently managed the smart play, but he does display an all-around solid understanding of his role and how best to achieve it.
Neighbours ability to maintain control of the puck, often shielding it with his body, has significantly contributed to his WHL success. While not always the fastest player on the ice, Neighbours is unafraid to tangle with anyone on the ice, even when common sense dictates he should leave the situation alone. Neighbours plays the role of agitator with ease, managing to draw a decent amount of penalties against while not being afraid to spend time in the box himself. There was a memorable fight that ended in a broken hand his rookie year.
While it’s doubtful the Oilers want to pick Neighbours at 14th, they may wish to engineer a situation that sees them picking again before 153rd! While it seems unlikely, the Oilers may wish to consider trading down in the 1st round for additional picks at which point Neighbours may become a possibility. Ranked anywhere between the last few selections of the 1st round and the middle of the 2nd round, Neighbours will provide whichever teams selects him with a solid, but not particularly flashy, left wing option.