In the first of what will soon be a cascade of moves, Jake Neighbours has been assigned to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. With the junior league being granted approval to play in the province of Alberta yesterday, things are moving forward on a season that starts in just under a month. Neighbours, like many top prospects, was caught in limbo somewhere between junior and the minor leagues. The 18-year-old first-round pick likely needs more time before joining the AHL and playing against professionals on a regular basis, but didn’t have a junior league to go back to until the WHL started up again.
Of course, that doesn’t mean all prospects will be going back. Only the five WHL clubs in Alberta have announced their restart plans as the league continues to work on approval in the other provinces and states that house teams. It also doesn’t have anything to do with the OHL, which is still in a holding pattern waiting for the Ontario government to loosen restrictions. The Toronto Marlies and Belleville Senators don’t even have official approval yet, let alone a junior hockey league spread out across the entire province (and some of the bordering states).
For Neighbours in particular though, this is good news. The young winger scored 23 goals and 70 points in 64 games last season and likely would have been in over his head in the AHL. Now, the Calgary native can remain in Alberta and continue his development against players his own age, at least for the 24-game schedule they have planned. After the WHL season is over, Neighbours and any other prospects will be able to assigned to the minor leagues again (should there still be games to play).
His entry-level contract, which was signed in October, will slide forward for this season and could again next year should he not be in the NHL.