WHL Next Generation is a 23-part series highlighting a handful of the future stars of the Western Hockey League. From first-round bantam draft picks to later-blooming selections, get to know the names of players set to establish themselves as the newest crop of exciting talent to grace the WHL. From August 1 through August 31, get the inside scoop on the incoming rookie class of 2018-19.
Team: Edmonton Oil Kings
Position: Left Wing
Jake Neighbours was highly ranked heading into his WHL Bantam Draft season. He lived up to the hype by posting 68 points (27G-41A) in 30 games and adding 11 points (5G-6A) in five playoff appearances winning the CSSBHL Championship.
His impressive play and great character were qualities too good to pass up by the Edmonton Oil Kings who selected him fourth overall in the 2017 Bantam Draft.
“I had a great season on a really good team,” said Neighbours. “I played with a lot of high-end players who also went high in the draft, so I figured I had a good chance to go in the top three rounds but to go fourth [overall] was exciting.”
Being selected in the top five of any draft brings bragging rights, but it also brings high expectations.
“Expectations are obviously going to be there, but I try not to think about it. I just play my game and go in there as a hockey player, like any other guy who is trying to make the Oil Kings next year.”
The 5-foot-11 winger may try to be like any other player, but with the success he has found in the past, there will always be extra eyes on him. Be it the opposing team, coach or even scouts, Neighbours will be the center of attention for some time to come.
The attention isn’t without warrant though, as the Airdrie, Alta. product tore it up last year. Posting 57 points (26G-31A) in 33 games for the Calgary Buffaloes Midget AAA.
“I thought it was a really good season, we had a really good team and I got to experience some individual success,” said Neighbours, who was named to the AMHL First All-Star Team and named the AMHL Top Forward. Neighbours also led the AMHL in goals and points.
The 2002-born forward took home a lot of hardware from his regular season and added to his collection captaining Team Alberta at the WHL Cup, taking home the silver medal.
“It was amazing, to play with players of that calibre at such a high level and against players that are so skilled,” said Neighbours. “To be able to take what other players do and try to find success in your own game with it is something special.”
Being selected by the Oil Kings, Neighbours will get to stay in Alberta and close to home where his friends and family can watch him play.
“I think [the Oil Kings] play Calgary [Hitmen] eight times next year so it’s nice and close to home. And for my family to be able to drive out and see a bunch of games, it’s pretty cool.”
Neighbours got some WHL action as he suited up for 11 games with the Oil Kings, notching four assists.
“I just followed my normal routine heading into my first game. It was an incredible experience to get to play at 15 as not many guys get the chance to do that. It’s huge for me going into next season trying to make the roster.”
“[My first assist in the WHL] was kind of fluky, the defenceman turned the puck over off my skate and it popped into the slot and we scored. Originally, they didn’t announce that I got the assist but at the T.V. timeout they corrected it and gave me the assist. It was pretty cool, getting my first point in a really good league, it’s something I will remember.”
Neighbours grew as a player after notching his first assist, getting some looks on the power play and notching two assists in the Oil Kings last game of the season.
“I hope to continue to put up production like that. I got a taste of the powerplay which helps out and they have a lot of skilled players who make it easy to put up points when your playing with them.”
Getting a taste of the WHL has only increased the wingers appetite for making a name for himself in the league.
“I’m training to get bigger and stronger. You play with guys up to four years older than you so I’m looking to grow and work on my speed. I’ve been training with some pro and some major junior guys who have helped me out a lot and shown me the tempo of what to expect if I do make it [on the Oil Kings],” said Neighbours on preparing for next season.
With the Oil Kings looking to improve their offence next season, Neighbours will bring a welcome set of hands, having already impressed in his short stint in the league.
Neighbours and the Oil Kings will kick off their 2018 pre-season on Friday August 31st at 7 p.m. MDT, when they play the Red Deer Rebels in the Red Deer Rebels Tournament at Enmax Centrium, Red Deer, Alta.
Who was your favorite hockey player to watch growing up?
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What is a hobby of yours not many people know about?
What fad/trend do you wish would come back?
The Nae Nae
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Stay by Florida Georgia Line