With the NHL draft happening on Oct. 6, there has been a lot of emphasis on the Chicago Blackhawks’ goaltending. Rightly so, because the future in between the pipes with or without Corey Crawford is troubling. But, the team’s goaltending woes shouldn’t overshadow what is still a big hole in the Blackhawks’ organization – forward depth.
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The Blackhawks are usually good at drafting depth guys that can be used anywhere in the lineup, like Alex DeBrincat, Andrew Shaw, and Brandon Saad. The Blackhawks need to find more forwards like them, and there is one name in the NHL draft that fits that mold: Jake Neighbours.
Neighbours is an 18-year-old left wing that has been playing with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League (WHL) for the last three seasons.
Prior to that, he also played for the Calgary Buffaloes of the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL), The Pursuit of Excellence U15 & U16 teams of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL), and the Airdire Xtreme U15 AAA team of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL).
Neighbours’ breakout year came from 2017-18 when he played for the Calgary Buffaloes. His stat line was 26 goals, 31 assists, and 57 points in 33 games. He led the AMHL in goals and points. This season with the Oil Kings, he had 23 goals, 47 assists, and 70 points in 64 games.
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When looking at his stats, the one thing that is noticeable is that he goes on patterns of explosiveness. From 2015-present, his points, in order, go as follows: 40, 68, 57, 24, and 70. He can have quieter moments, but he rebounds greatly. Neighbors’ assists are also double his goal output, which highlights his playmaking ability.
From looking at Neighbours’ highlight reel, he has very good, quick instincts. He also has a great one-timer. The way he is able to set up his teammates for those filthy goals can’t be overlooked, either. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Furthermore, Neighbours is noted for his physical play, which allows him to succeed at winning board battles and getting to the dirty areas. His size is also something he uses to his advantage – at 5-foot-11 and 201 pounds, he isn’t someone that can be pushed around easily, which makes puck possession a strength for him.
The Blackhawks are at a standstill. Most of their left-wing group is questionable for being with the team long-term. This is due to the team’s salary cap issues, free agency, and being on thin ice for performance reasons. They have Saad (salary cap), Drake Caggiula (restricted free agent), Alex Nylander (thin ice), and Dominik Kubalik (RFA). The left wings that are currently a lock in the lineup are DeBrincat and Matthew Highmore.
The Blackhawks’ pipeline does not offer much help either. They have prospects like Brandon Hagel and newly-signed Pius Suter coming into the fold next season, but the team has to start replenishing the pipeline if they want to stay competitive. Neighbours would be a great starting point. He is someone that could contribute on all four lines, on the penalty kill, and on the power play.
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Something that was evident when Chicago faced the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in August, was how easily Vegas overpowered them. When it came to physicality, puck possession, and speed, Vegas made the Blackhawks look silly. Neighbours can help on all of those fronts as well.
Neighbours stands out to me because I think that he possesses traits of some the Blackhawks’ players that have contributed to their decade of dominance – physicality like Shaw, two-way playing ability like Saad, and playmaking ability like Patrick Kane. That type of versatility can’t be taken for granted in this league and it’s something Chicago desperately needs.
Neighbours is listed at No. 26 in the NHL’s 2020 Draft Prospect Rankings. It is believed he could go late in the first round or in the second round. Chicago picks at No. 17 in the first round and at No. 46 in the second round. I don’t know if the Hawks are planning on trading up or down in the first and second round, but if Nieghbours falls into their lap somehow, someway, I would not sleep on him.