This isn’t the draft Jake Neighbours expected.
He’s not alone in that.
But it’s especially true for the players who have had to wait a little longer to hear an NHL team call their name at the 2020 NHL Draft due to COVID-19 and its domino-like delaying effect on the hockey world.
“The biggest word to use is uncertainty,” Neighbours said. “As a player, if we could pick, I think we’d have the draft tomorrow. But we don’t really get that option or that choice.
“We’re just excited and looking forward to whenever the day may come. We’ve worked hard for numerous amounts of years to get to this point in our lives and in our hockey careers. We’re patiently waiting for the day where we can really accomplish a dream we set out to do as a kid. I’m super excited for that moment, whenever that may come. It’s just staying patient and wait for that day because I know it’s going to be special.”
For now, the day-to-day plays out like Groundhog Day.
Neighbours is in a routine, or holding pattern, while he awaits his draft day.
“Usually it’s a wake-up, have a meal, head over to the Weisblatt’s garage,” Neighbours said, talking about fellow 2020 NHL Draft prospect and teammate Ozzy Weisblatt. “We have a gym set up in their garage. I’ll hit a Crash Conditioning workout and after that get a meal in and do a couple interviews.
“After that I’m free to do whatever. If the weather’s nice we’ll play spike ball or football or soccer in the field. For the most part, the morning slash early afternoon is pretty consistent from day-to-day.”
No. 45 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2020 draft, Neighbours has been trying to stay positive about the situation and keeping his days full has been a big part of that.
“You can look at it as either a disadvantage or an advantage,” Neighbours said. “I think we have a lot of free time to do stuff that we can improve upon on our game and do lots of training.
“We’ve been very fortunate that Crash has hooked us up with some gear to put in Ozzy’s garage and we can do workouts there. We do a lot of sprinting in the field. Lots of free time to get some stuff done that maybe you wouldn’t have in a normal summer, so maybe a little extra development is going on.”
Neighbours took a big step forward this season, putting up 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists) in 64 games. That’s up from 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 47 games the year prior.
He was a member of Canada’s entry at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer, playing as the alternate captain and helping the team to a silver medal. As he mentioned, he’s been waiting patiently. But sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially with the date still not set.
All of his work was to get to this point, the draft and what comes next.
COVID-19 has put a pause on that.
But he, and all the other draft hopefuls, are just waiting it out for now.
“It definitely is hard,” Neighbours said. “I think it’ll be a lot easier on us if we had a date that we could set our eyes on and look forward to, but as of right now we don’t really know when that is. There’s a little bit of frustration going in there for sure.
“We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but that accomplishment whenever it may happen at the end of the day is second to none. We’re just excited for the day to come.”
With files from Aaron Vickers