Who is Jake Neighbours?: Jake Neighbours is a 6’1” left wing who weighs 195 pounds, He was born on March 29, 2002, and last played for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. The 2019-20 season was Neighbours’ first full season in major juniors, having played just 58 games across two prior seasons with time in the WHL. Nonetheless, Neighbours is projected as one of the top wingers in this draft, who is likely to go in the second round.
Neighbours has something good going for him here, as his point production steadily increased with increased playing time with the Oil Kings. In his only experience in the playoffs with Edmonton, Neighbours also outperformed his regular season scoring pace. Back in 2017-18, when Neighbours played the majority of his season in the Alberta Midget Hockey League, his 26 goals and 57 points led the league. Undoubtedly, his developed physical frame (which some list at just over 200 pounds) has helped Neighbours make an adjustment to major juniors, but for a player of his type he does need to score more goals.
Where is he ranked?:
- 26th by NHL Central Scouting
- 26th by ISS Hockey
- 30th by McKeen’s Hockey
- 43rd by TSN (Craig Button)
- 43rd by Future Considerations
- 65th by Elite Prospects
What do others have to say about him?: At Last Word on Hockey, Ben Kerr did an article on Jake Neighbours. Here is what he had to say about Neighbours:
Neighbours is a puck possession monster. He uses his body to protect the puck down low and extend plays. He wins battles in the corners and gets the puck to teammates. With excellent stickhandling ability, Neighbours can extend plays and give his linemates the time to get open. Once they do, he has the vision to find them and the passing skills to set them up through tight spaces. Neighbours is always moving his feet and a constant presence around the puck. He is always in the middle of scrums and his relentlessness can pester opponents and draw penalties.
I could see how Neighbours would be a very attractive addition for the Devils to make, seeing as they have plenty of players who like to work with the puck - but not a lot of players who can fend off overtly physical defense on their own. Having just traded Blake Coleman, the Devils no longer have their guy who will be “always in the middle of scrums”. Unfortunately for the Devils, they would have to make another trade to pick Neighbours.
On NHL.com, Dave McCarthy did an article on Neighbours. Brad Lauer, former NHLer and coach of the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL, had this to say about Neighbours:
“He’s one of those forwards I’d put in the power forward with good skill who can make plays category,” Lauer said. “But he’s also a big body who can play a heavy game in those tight, below the goal line, getting to the net type of games. He’s got that ability to be that big man and the ability to make plays with good hands and a good hockey sense. He doesn’t shy away from tough areas and that is a strongpoint of his game.”
Meanwhile, Neighbours had to say this about himself:
“I think when I’m finishing my checks and being a bit of a pest, that’s when I’m playing my best. I love the hitting aspect and being a physical player. Players like (Calgary Flames forward) Matthew Tkachuk and (New York Islanders forward) Anders Lee, two players who play with an edge and play that physical type of game but also produce points and are leaders, those are two guys I look up to.”
I find it particularly interesting that, despite Neighbours nearly tripling his scoring from the season before, both him and his coach chose to talk about his involvement in the physical points of the game. Neighbours seems particularly driven to make himself known as a physical presence.
What the video has to say about him: Given that Neighbours was the fourth pick of the 2017 Bantam Draft, there is plenty of video on him - even going back a season. To start, here’s video of Jake Neighbours’ 2018-19 highlights, from the WHL.
Now, mind you, he was only 16 to 17 years old in the highlights this video uses. In the first highlight, Neighbours finds himself in perfect position for a late goal, which is followed by a great play in which Neighbours splits the defenders off a defensive zone draw for a nearly end-to-end goal. He has some real highlights here, which is impressive given the age he was at the time.
Now, here are his highlights from this season - and this video is about five times as long as the first.
I particularly like the way Neighbours approaches offense. He follows up on missed plays, and waits for things to develop when he’s not in a position to create things himself. His highlight at 3:16 strikes me as a play where one of the Devils’ skilled players would have lost the puck when the defenseman tried to get physical. Neighbours shook him off like nothing, and allowed the offense to set up. His drive doesn’t seem to ever be interrupted by a batted pass he makes, as he follows up on his own missed pass off a skate of a defender on a partial two-on-one chance to score a goal on his backhand. He also had some smooth moves on the penalty kill at 7:29, in which he shows off his speed against an unprepared defenseman. His pass at 10:14 is something to behold, as he finds a teammate from the boards without really looking. But my favorite highlight from this video has to be the one at 9:40, where he takes the puck through all three zones, shaking off an opposition player at the boards with solid puck protection and then pulling the puck back to avoid a diving poke check from another defenseman as a backchecker tries to hit him from behind (and fails). I think Neighbours has a really good offensive drive.
The Devils don’t have a pick for him. But if they did?: Neighbours might not have the flashiest stat line in this draft, but he plays both special teams and is more-or-less fully physically developed. While I’ve seen some sites list him as a power forward-type player - and he certainly has some of those skills, especially in netfront situations - I think he’s more of a possession-driven player. He’s not a power forward that will park his body around the goal, but can drive transition with his passing or his own legs - and I think he needs to shoot more. If nothing else, his highlights show he is perfectly capable of creating goals for himself but defers a lot to his teammates. From Robert Murray on the WHL site, Neighbours had this to say about himself:
“For the me, the biggest thing in the way I play the game is team success leads to individual success,” Neighbours said. “With our run last year, we came into the year with a little bit more experience and knowing that we were going to be a bit more of a threat around the league.
“The biggest thing was to just contribute as much as I could to a team game and it would lead to individual success. That’s been my game plan so far and it’s been working out.”
Working out is an understatement. His 47 assists tied for the ninth highest assist total in the WHL - and this was the first time he played more than 50 games in major juniors in one season. The reason that Neighbours won’t be a first round pick is his relatively low goal count. He was one of the best overall point-producers in the WHL (especially among 18-and-under players), but there were 45 players with more goals than him in the league. For a team like the Devils looking for goal scoring, Neighbours isn’t exactly the best guy in that area. Playing lesser competition prior to the WHL, Neighbours had led at least one of his leagues in goal scoring, but he’s adapted - and that can be seen as a positive too.
Of the post-first round prospects I’ve profiled, Neighbours has to be my favorite. The combination of his solid frame and speed, along with his drive to create goals in the offensive zone is intriguing to me. If the Devils for any reason end up with a second round pick (whether by trade or some NHL compensation ideas) and he’s still on the board, I think he’s a great player to add to the prospect pool. I don’t necessarily think he will be a top six player, but his speed, skill, and ability to shake off a check might make him an invaluable third or occasional second liner plus penalty killer in the NHL. I would be willing to make a bet on his upside.