Last night was Jake Neighbours’ last game with the Blues for now. The team’s 3-2 shootout win against the Winnipeg Jets was the ninth game for Neighbours on the season, and according to NHL rules, one more game would’ve burned a year of contract eligibility.
Neighbours being returned to Juniors shouldn’t surprise anyone, nor should anything be read into it. He had an excellent training camp, and kept pace with the big boys while he was up here. Unfortunately, when the Blues are entirely healthy, the spot where he could be slotted in at would be on the fourth line. The team’s top prospect shouldn’t be getting fourth line minutes, and a player who is not intended to grow into a fourth line role shouldn’t be on the fourth line for his entire first NHL season. You want a player to get the experience he needs in the role that he needs to be in. He will get that in Edmonton; he may not’ve gotten that in St. Louis.
A goal and an assist in nine games is solid for a player that no one expected to hang around past camp. There is a lot of good in Neighbours’ future - in just 19 games last year with the Oil Kings, he had 9 goals and 24 assists. The season before that, in 64 games, he had 23 goals and 47 assists. That is, by no means, someone who needs to be spending his time on a NHL’s fourth line, even one as good as the Blues.
The Blues have a dedication to proper player development - it’s why Alex Pietrangelo is still considered one of the best defensemen in the league while the player taken ahead of him, Zach Bogosian, is looked at as serviceable at best. The difference between an elite team captain with a Cup and a journeyman with a Cup was Petro going back to juniors while the Atlanta Thrashers rushed Bogosian’s development and mismanaged injury recovery because the team put the on-ice needs of now before a player’s (and team’s) future.
The Blues aren’t in any sort of situation where they need Neighbours up here right this second. It’s difficult to justify burning a year of his contract when he’s not going to be getting the time and experience that he needs. He’s proven himself to be an exciting glimpse of the Blues future and one we should all be excited to see more of. We’re just going to have to wait a little while longer.