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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Jake Neighbours is one of the Draft’s most polarizing prospects

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The opinions vary widely on the prospect who had a breakout season in 2019-20.

2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

When it comes to the draft evaluation of Jake Neighbours, most people tend to agree that he will be taken in the first two rounds of the NHL Draft. However, depending on which scouts you ask, there are some that really like him, and some that really don’t.

Birthplace: Airdrie, AB, Canada
Date of birth: March 29, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Left Wing
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 201 lbs.
Team: Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Neighbours was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, notably taken ahead of Seth Jarvis, who is solidly in the top-15 of most Draft rankings. It took Neighbours a while to get adjusted to the WHL, but broke out offensively in his draft year. After only 11 goals and 17 assists in his first 58 WHL games over two seasons, he had 23 goals and 47 assists in 64 games in 2019-20.

EliteProspects.com

The strong season helped him garner attention, but his strong play actually started in the previous season’s playoffs where he had four goals and eight assists for 12 points in 16 playoff games.

Strengths

One of the strengths of his game was his consistency in terms of production. In 2019-20, he never went more than two games without getting his name on the scoresheet, and even that only happened twice over the season. He’s able to contribute at even strength and on the power play. Of his 70 points, only three goals and 16 assists were scored on the power play.

People who like Neighbours’s game praise his hockey sense and his passing. His ability to find passing lanes and find space can be a quality of his game that helps him get picked relatively early in the draft.

Neighbours isn’t the tallest player, at just under — or around — 6’0”, but he is over 200 pounds, and that makes him stocky and very strong on his feet. Multiple scouting reports say that when defenders step up on him. they are the ones who often stumble towards the ice.

In that same vein, he makes life difficult for opponents. He plays a heavy game, and that can have a draining affect on his opponents, and may be a reason he was so successful in the WHL playoffs. He’s not an overly physical player but he’s strong on the forecheck and doesn’t shy away from physical play.

What helps him stay high on draft boards is that he’s versatile. Although he doesn’t have long cold streaks, he can help a team in other ways, and that can help him in his pro career if he doesn’t always get top-six opportunities.

Weaknesses

The main issue with Neighbours’s game can be linked to his skating. While it has improved over his junior career, it still forces his game into some unfortunate positions. His straight line speed limits his ability to choose different rush options. He also drops his head in the neutral zone and that leads to him missing some opportunities to change his route or hit teammates for passes.

While he is praised for his hockey sense, his decision making is a question mark. He doesn’t make the right decisions at times, whether it be to pass or shoot, or choosing how to beat defenders. He doesn’t have the puck skills nor the speed to beat defenders one-on-one but can still be seen trying that, more often than not leading to a turnover or a dump in.

It also affects his shot. He doesn’t have a bad shot but he tends to keep his rushes to the outside which limits its effectiveness in his team’s rush offence. His puck handling is also inconsistent. He isn’t without skill, but it’s not a part of his game that can be counted on.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: NR
Future Considerations: #45
Hockey Prospect: #51
McKeen’s Hockey: #23
McKenzie/TSN: #31
NHL Central Scouting: #26 (North American skaters)

Neighbours, quite frankly, has the potential to be one of the most polarizing prospects in recent years. As it stands, he would be the highest player in the five years of our EOTP consensus rankings to be completely left off of a draft rankings board.

Elite Prospects ruled him as a player they would not draft, and left him off of their 129 player list.

The scouting reports that have issues with his upside do so because there are questions to how his game will evolve at the next level. He is a good player in the WHL, but there are question marks as to how he will perform as a professional hockey player. In the view of the most negative reports, he will need to show a lot of improvement in order to be a difference maker at the NHL level.

The range with Neighbours is wide, with multiple rankings in the first round. Teams that like him will have their chance to grab him, while teams that are lukewarm on him will likely see him off the board before they would be prepared to pick him.

There’s a lot to like in Neighbours’s game. How much a team finds to love in it will determine how high he will go.