When the St. Louis Blues selected Jake Neighbours in the 2020 NHL Draft with the 26th pick, it felt like an OK selection. A few analysts felt St. Louis reached a little, thinking Neighbours may have still been available in the second round, but the promise was there.
However, given the overall lack of depth according to the scouts, it seemed like it would be a four-year project, give or take. Neighbours didn’t feel like waiting that long.
Neighbours came into the 2021 preseason with high expectations for himself and has not let his foot off the gas at all. Whatever the coaching staff threw at him, he took it and excelled as much as he could.
Put him on the top line and Neighbours flew around, looking for goals and getting to the front of the net. Put him on the fourth line and he would get in on the forecheck and muck it up with anyone.
None of this is to say this kid is a lock to make the team. Like any 19-year old player, he still has things to learn and improve on.
However, he has definitely earned at least a quick look from the Blues to start the 2021-22 season. While it is not definite yet, it seems as though he will receive that.
If Neighbours has stuck around this long, it seems as though he will not be that one player to be sent packing on the last day. Like Robert Thomas, Robby Fabbri and Alex Pietrangelo before him, Neighbours will likely get a nine-game tryout.
However, just to make things clear, none of this means he will stay the entire season. In fact, unless Neighbours just knocks everyone’s socks off, it is more likely than not he is sent to his junior team once his nine games end.
The main reason for that is because Neighbours is essentially keeping Oskar Sundqvist‘s seat warm. The Blues will need to free up a roster spot once Sundqvist is healthy. Neighbours would be the most likely player to clear off because he would not have to clear waivers.
Additionally, the thing the Blues have on their side is that these nine games do not have to be consecutive. For example, if Sundqvist did not come back until December, the Blues could simply play Neighbours just one game per week and still have games to spare before they had to make the decision.
The Blues have had these options before. Fabbri and Thomas simply stuck with the team.
On the flip side, Pietrangelo was sent back to juniors twice after getting a look in the NHL. He played eight games the first time and nine the second time, but since the Blues still had the option, he was sent down.
So, talent alone is no guarantee. Neighbours might turn into the next big thing, but as long as the Blues still have options to send him down without clearing waivers, he may be expendable unless he overperforms to the point the team has no choice but to keep him.
That is definitely possible. Robert Thomas was a player everyone figured might go back to juniors and then he ends up playing on a Stanley Cup championship team.
If Neighbours has the skill and keeps doing what he’s been doing, the Blues may have to find a hole for Sundqvist by moving someone else.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that just because Neighbours makes the team out of camp, he may not stay the entire year.