Those who have paid close attention to the Edmonton Oil Kings over the past year know that Jake Neighbours is a star in the making. Even back in the 2017-18 season, when he appeared in just 11 games as a 15-year-old, it was clear that Neighbours was a special player.
Even though he’s remarkably talented, his rookie season wasn’t exactly perfect. He missed a large chunk of the season with an injury and when he finally returned, he was suspended for four games. It was tough for him to really pick up any sort of momentum at certain points during the regular season. Still, he managed to produce 11 goals and 13 assists in 47 games. That did rank him 29th among WHL rookies but it’s important to keep in mind that out of the 28 rookie skaters that finished ahead of him, only four played less than 60 games.
When it comes to Neighbours, stats only show a portion of what makes him so special. He’s incredibly physically mature for his age and he isn’t afraid to use his size to make an impact. He combines that size with his high-end speed to torture opposing defensemen on the forecheck. He also loves physical contact. You’ll rarely see him pass up an opportunity to finish a check.
Considering his love of physical hockey, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Neighbours have his coming out party during the Oil Kings recent run to the Eastern Conference Championship.
“I think I’m built for it. It gets more physical, which I’m not afraid of. It’s intense and when the emotions of the games high, I elevate my game,” said the Oil Kings rookie forward when asked playing playoff hockey.
In total, he scored four goals and added eight assists in 16 games. The numbers were great, but the timing of the production is what made headlines.
It started in game one of their second-round series against the Calgary Hitmen. The Oil Kings were trailing 2-1 late in that game when Neighbours stepped off the bench, rushed down the ice and fired home the game-tying goal with just 11 seconds remaining. He wasn’t done there as just minutes into overtime, he would bang home the game-winner and give his team a stunning 1-0 series lead.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 7, 2019
That changed the outcome of that series. The Oil Kings would go on to sweep the Hitmen but if it wasn’t for Neighbours tying goal, the whole series may have been different.
Next up for the Oil Kings was the Eastern Conference Championship against the Prince Albert Raiders and once again, Neighbours stepped up in a big way, potting the overtime winner in game two of the series. That moment gave the Oil Kings a chance in that series and even though they were eventually eliminated in six games by the Raiders, it was a hell of a series and Neighbours winner in game two was a massive moment.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 21, 2019
Neighbours proved that he’s more than just a hyped prospect. He belongs in the WHL and he can produce. His physically was impressive, as was his ability to step up and contribute when the game is on the line. That sets up well for a player who’s about to head into his NHL Draft year, which can bring a lot of pressure. For that, Neighbours has a teammate in Matt Robertson who he can lean on for support.
“He’s a good guy to look at. He’s a highly touted guy for the NHL Draft and he’s been through it all. He knows how to deal with all the distractions and how to maintain a solid game,” said Neighbours.
The organization is losing the likes of Trey Fix-Wolansky, Quinn Benjafield, and Vince Loschiavo. Those three were instrumental in the teams wildly successful 2019-20 season and were no doubt the leaders of the pack.
“Those numbers have to be replaced by somebody. We can go out and try to get scorers but it’s got to come from within first,” said Neighbours, referencing the likes of Carter Souch, Josh Williams, and Vlad Alistrov as important parts of their core.
Now that torch, along with a lot of offensive responsibility will be passed onto the likes of Neighbours. If the past 12 months are any indication of the future, Neighbours is more than capable of stepping up.