Tartan(Minnesota) High School forward Jake Jackson didn't begin the year on the NHL Draft radar. As a December '94 birthdate, he faced the issue many players born late in the year do in that he was overlooked in favor of older, more developed players. But this past season, Jackson really began to show his talent and has drawn the attention of numerous NHL teams.
Jackson's strong year began last summer, when he put together an impressive showing at the Waterloo Blackhawks(USHL) tryout camp, earning a spot on the team. Jackson declined, however, opting to return home and spend his senior season playing for his local high school. In the fall, Jackson played in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, an all-star league for top high school players in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. In a league littered with NHL Draft prospects, Jackson was impressive, showing a deft scoring touch and putting in 10 goals in the 21-game season. After the Elite League, Jackson made a commitment to play college hockey at Michigan Tech.
During the high school season, Jackson was once again outstanding despite not having much of a supporting cast on a high school team that isn't traditionally a power. He scored 32 goals and 27 assists and was named a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Hockey Award. He capped off his high school career with dominating performances at Minnesota Great 8 Festival for high school seniors, and at the CCM NIT tournament. Following the high school season, Jackson had the opportunity to finish out the year playing in the USHL, but chose instead to stay at Tartan and play baseball, where he was a standout center fielder.
Jackson played center during the high school season, but will likely eventually make the move to wing. He's not the most agile skater, but has tremendous straight-line speed once he gets going, making him incredibly dangerous rushing the puck down the wing. He's great at picking corners with a heavy snap shot, and while he's not a flashy stickhandler and passer, he does demonstrate very good hands around the net, making plays in tight spaces.
Jackson will play next season in the USHL for Sioux City, before heading off to Michigan Tech. He's still a bit of a project at this point, but his speed and scoring ability suggests some exciting high-end potential should he continue to develop. As far as pro potential, Jackson is a bit of a boom-or-bust type prospect, and given how little he has proven outside of high school hockey, the odds of him reaching that potential are likely slim, which should push him to the later rounds of the draft. But the type of high-end talent he's shown this year will likely be tantalizing enough for some NHL team to take a chance at drafting him. Jackson will most likely be selected somewhere in rounds 5-7, but could jump up as early as the 4th round if some team really believes he'll continue to grow as a player.