The St. Louis Blues left the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft with the truculent Jake Neighbours at 26th overall. He jumped a bit from where he was supposed to be selected, as many outlets had him projected to go in the early second round. THW’s resident draft experts Josh Bell, Andrew Forbes, and Larry Fisher had him 32nd, 34th, and 48th respectively.
The Blues chose Neighbours over Noel Gunler, Ridly Greig, and Mavrik Bourque who were all projected to go higher than him. Although, we probably shouldn’t be too surprised as he plays a style they have rooted themselves in ever since they became a franchise in 1967.
Neighbours Brings the Truculence
The Blues have always been hard to play against, and that is a testament to the players they have in their lineup. Neighbours will bring grit, truculence, and goal-scoring potential when he makes the NHL one day, which is just what they want on their future roster. They could have gone with more skill and top-six certainty in their 2020 first-round pick, but ultimately thought he was the one that would make their team better in the long-run.
He plays Blues-style hockey…He’s very competitive, can play up and down your lineup and goes to the hard areas of the ice very willingly. He’s someone that I think can complement very good players, someone that is going to fit in with his character and his work ethic.Blues general manager Doug Armstrong (from ‘Edmonton Oil Kings forward Jake Neighbours selected by St. Louis Blues’, Edmonton Sun, 10/07/20)
Neighbours is strong for 5-foot-11 and never shies away from contact in the corners. He wins most battles along the boards and if nothing else, he will be a third-line agitator that should score 15-20 goals in his prime. Often compared to Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames, he could be one of those players that makes a difference in a playoff series with his physicality, competitiveness, and intense forecheck. He is not a good neighbor most of the time, as he constantly looks to get under his opponent’s skin, and that alone will make him a valuable player for the Blues in the future.
Playing with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League he scored a career-high 23 goals and 70 points in 2019-20, so clearly, physical play and agitation aren’t his only skills. He has the tools of a top-six forward but will need some seasoning before he makes it to the NHL.
In the end, Neighbours was just a rare blend of agitation and offensive potential that was too good for the Blues to pass up. As long as Craig Berube is the head coach, those players will always be welcome in the Gateway to the West.
Blues May Have to Wait for Neighbours
Neighbours will make an impact in the NHL one day, but the Blues might have to wait a bit for that to happen. He still has to work on his 200-foot game and improve his skating to be that top-six forward everyone believes he can become.
If Neighbours can successfully work on those things, he might end up playing in the NHL sooner rather than later. The fact that he can play a physical, agitating style makes him an ideal candidate to play in the bottom-six as he develops his overall defensive game.
In all likelihood, he will play out his junior eligibility in the WHL, fine-tune his game in the American Hockey League, then if all goes according to plan, become a full-time NHLer as a key member of the top-six and both special teams.
Looking Ahead to Day 2 of the Draft
After adding the truculence of Neighbours, the Blues will now turn their attention to Day 2 on Wednesday where they have six more selections to make. They will have to wait until the third round to make their second choice though, as they traded their second-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for defenceman Marco Scandella. There are plenty of interesting players still left, so they should be able to add value even in the later rounds. Will they be able to discover another steal like former third-round picks Sammy Blais, Jordan Binnington, and Colton Parayko? Time will tell as the unprecedented 2020 October NHL Draft rolls on.