Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Neighbours focused on making Blues roster as 19-year-old

First round pick in 2020 making favorable impression on management, 
coaches, scouts with work ethic, skill; paid own way to come to St. Louis early

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Teenagers tend to save money for all sorts of things, whether it be for that first car or whatever they may want or need.

For Blues prospect Jake Neighbours, he scrounged up some money of his own to take a trip: to St. Louis.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Neighbours, a 2020 first round pick by the Blues, came to town early
and paid his own money to get here so he can work with the veterans.

Neighbours, 19, wanted to make a favorable and lasting impression as his journey as a professional hockey player is blooming as we speak, and he felt coming into town a month-plus outside of prospect camp and training camp to work with the big boys was a good first step in accomplishing that.

And he did it on his own dime, showing up in St. Louis in early August and putting his work boots on.

"Me and Scotty Perunovich came up in early August and we thought it would be a good idea to be up here with the NHL guys, to get a chance to skate and work out with them and be around pros," said Neighbours, a power forward left wing and 26th pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. "That's just something I've wanted to do since I was a young kid. I thought it was worth the money to come up here and be up here for a month. I don't regret my decision at all, so it was good.

"I had to save up a little bit, yeah. I was paying rent back in Calgary, so I thought why not make the move to St. Louis and be up here with the pros?

"... I just came up here and became a sponge and soaked it all in. Getting to learn from those guys is very valuable at a young age."

And even though the odds are stacked against him, Neighbours has one objective in mind: to make a favorable impression on coaches and management and give them reason to keep him here for the long haul. 

And right away.

"I like to believe so," Neighbours said. "You never want to count yourself out. I think it would be pointless to show up here and think I'm here just for the motions. I want to come here and try to push for a spot. That's what we want to do every single camp. You don't want to come in here with no hopes, confidence in yourself that you're going to play in the NHL. I know it's a very good team here, obviously a lot of veteran guys, but I'm just going to learn from them, push them and make myself better in the process. If I get a chance to play for the Blues, it's obviously an unbelievable opportunity at this age. That's what I'm here to try to do.

"... I (also) think just believing in yourself. Obviously it's a man's league and probably something that's very hard to do as a young player, but I'm very excited for the opportunity. I just try and remind myself that I'm here for a reason and the Blues are confident in me so I try and play like that and not change who I am. I'm just going to go out there and try and play my game, show then what I've got and the rest will take care of itself."

Neighbours spent the past four years in the Western Hockey League with the Edmonton Oil Kings, including last year's shortened season in which the 6-foot, 195-pound winger was able to total 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) in just 19 games which also included a team-best plus-29 playing alongside Dylan Guenther, the ninth overall pick in the 2021 draft. Neighbours also had a career-high 70 points (24 goals, 46 assists) in 64 games the previous season.

"We were very fortunate in the Western Hockey League to be able to play some games," Neighbours said. "Obviously being up with St. Louis before that and it was really good then. Getting to the Western Hockey League for the start was obviously great. We got a chance to play some games. Our team had a really great year and had a lot of success. We didn't get to experience any playoffs or anything like that, but it was obviously good to get into some games."

Neighbours spent some time with the Blues last season before going to the WHL. The team has been impressed with not only his work ethic but attitude in wanting to get better each day.

"He made a huge impression on the coaching staff last year and the whole organization," said Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of amateur scouting. "Great attitude, very humbled boy. He's a hard-working kid. He spent a full month here on his own money to be here and to get ready for camp in August. He looks like he's a lot thicker this year. His skating, it looks like he's gained a step. He knows what to expect. He's been at this pace for the last month skating with all the NHL players. Obviously that's the pace he's going to go up against when the season starts, but he's a kid that we're really excited about and really a guy that's going to push to be in this lineup very soon.

"Everything that I've seen and witnessed with him and talked to him and done Zoom calls with him indicates that he will do everything in his power to make this team. He's got great character, off the chart character. Anyone I've talked to in the Western (Hockey) League, especially his coaching staff loves the way he plays, loves the way he brings his practice habits each and every day. His body has gotten bigger for sure and he's done a really good job in transforming and getting stronger. These young kids, it's all about strength and conditioning and getting ready and maturing as a man to play at this level. It's another year under his belt from an 18-year-old to a 19-year-old. I'm looking forward to seeing what he's going to bring in, at Traverse City first."

Neighbours will be among the prospects heading to Traverse City, Mich. for the annual prospect tournament up there beginning Friday at 2 p.m. against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It gives him the chance to showcase himself and put him in a better line to perhaps at the very least, raise some eyebrows at the main training camp next week.

"Just to have a strong showing," Neighbours said. "There's going to be a lot of pros there, a lot of good hockey players. For me, it's kind of my first taste of playing some live action against some pro hockey players. We'll see how I stack up against them for starters and then kind of go from there. I'm excited for the opportunity and I know a lot of guys here are as well. It will be fun.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Left wing Jake Neighbours hopes to showcase himself with
fellow prospects in Traverse City, Mich. this weekend.

"I tried to work on my scoring and my shot, try to make that more lethal. ... And obviously skating. The game's getting faster every single year so you've got to be able to keep up and specifically try to work on my acceleration, come out of the corners and being quick at battles and stuff like that. I really tried to put an emphasis on everything this summer."

And should Neighbours wind up in Springfield (Mass.) playing in the American Hockey League with the Thunderbirds, there's one pitstop he's hoping to make along the way: representing Canada at the 2022 World Junior Championship after participating in the Team Canada Summer Showcase.

"That's obviously a huge goal of mine to play in the World Juniors," Neighbours said. "It's something I've wanted you always want to do as a kid growing up. It was a really good experience to get to go there this summer and he with the best from around the country. I got reunited with a lot of guys that I haven't seen in a long time and got to play some high level hockey. That's all you could ask for in the middle of the summer and it was a good lead-up coming up to St. Louis. It was really nice to get an invite there and hopefully I'll be back there in December and make the team for the tournament."

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