The 2020 NHL Draft will be October 6 & 7, conducted remotely. The Calgary Flames have a first round selection and will pick 19th overall. In advance of the draft, we’ll be looking at some contenders to be selected at 19th.
Next on our list is a player from just up Highway 2: Edmonton Oil Kings winger Jake Neighbours.
Originally from scenic Airdrie, Alberta and a product of the Calgary suburb’s minor hockey programs, Neighbours has been a highly touted prospect in WHL circles for years. He went fourth overall in the 2017 Bantam Draft and while his offensive numbers haven’t been amazing, he’s developed an all-around game that’s made NHL scouts pretty impressed with his progression.
Neighbours has played two full seasons in the Dub (plus a chunk of another season when he was 15). He’s a very good all-around winger. He can play in all situations. He’s smart. He’s savvy. He’s physical but doesn’t take penalties too often – and when’s he’s using his size and skill, he can take over games and make the opposition go mad. (There was one such game last September where he had a goal, an assist, and almost won the Oil Kings the game before a late Hitmen comeback.)
Here’s an assessment from Dobber’s Tony Ferrari:
Jake Neighbours is a solid 200-foot winger who likes to play with a bit of an edge. He already has a sturdy frame at 5-11 and over 200lbs which allows him to engage physically and win battles with a high rate of efficiency. He has no problem going through a defender rather than around but he has good enough hands to make a move in space. His skating is good but he does lack high-end top-speed. His first-step quickness is the difference-maker with Neighbours as the young Oil Kings’ winger consistently beats players from a standstill position and then has a good enough top-speed to stay ahead in the race. His shot is above average because of his deceptive release. The puck jumps off his stick, elevating it from in tight with ease. Neighbours vision and playmaking lack creativity at times but he makes passes look effortless in the offensive zone. As a player who plays on both special teams, he should be able to find a role on just about any team fairly quickly.
Ben Kerr from Last Word on Sports also praised him:
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.
Neighbours isn’t an amazingly flashy player, but he’s a well-rounded player with few weaknesses and seems like a coach’s dream.
Neighbours was 18th in the WHL in points in 2019-20. Ahead of him among first-time draft eligible players were Portland’s Seth Jarvis, Kamloops’ Connor Zary, and Saskatoon’s Tristen Robins. Prince Albert’s Ozzy Wiesblatt tied Neighbours with 70 points, but had two more goals than Neighbours did. Neighbours’ 228 shots put him 12th in the Dub at pucks on net.
Neighbours had 50 even strength points, compared to Jarvis’ 68, Zary’s 44, Robins’ 48 and Wiesblatt’s 43. Needless to say, Neighbours wasn’t overly reliant on special teams for production and did a nice job generating offense at five on five.
Availability and fit
All I can say is: if only Neighbours was a right shot forward, he’d be ideal for the Flames. Sure, he’s not a high-end finesse guy, but he can be used in virtually any situation. He would provide some high-end depth to the farm system and his size and skill-set make him potentially a “safe” option in a system full of smaller and more skills-based guys. (If Neighbours made himself an everyday NHLer by killing penalties and being a bottom six energy guy with reliable scoring, nobody would panic the way they would if others in the system topped out like that.)
It seems likely that Neighbours will be available when the Flames log onto the virtual podium at 19th overall. He’s 45th for FC Hockey, 26th for ISS, 43rd for Craig Button, 23rd for McKeen’s and 31st for Bob McKenzie. He would be arguably a bit of a stretch, and other players available at 19th would have a higher developmental ceiling potentially. But his smarts, playing style and size give him a pretty high developmental floor.