Born in Florida, but raised in Toronto, Akil Thomas is one of the more interesting prospects in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He is a kid that has the skill to play all over the place in junior hockey, but one that teams might take a while to figure out how to properly utilize at the next level.
Playing on a Niagara Ice Dogs team that was lacking a lot of talent, Thomas was able to step right in and contribute in a big was as a rookie. During the 2016-17 season, Thomas moved his way up the Niagara lineup and was able to score 21 goals while adapting to a league filled with older players. He looked like a kid that was going to explode as a huge goal scoring threat as he goal older.
That hasn’t really come. This past season, Thomas played a huge role for the improving Ice Dogs team, but his goal production didn’t see the kind of development many had expected. He scored only one more goal in seven more game. Thomas turned into much more of a facilitator, with a huge assist total - in part because of his great instincts, but also due to the fact that he’s spending a lot of his time playing on the perimeter.
Akil Thomas is a very skilled player that sometime gets lost in the team’s system and trying to make plays for his teammates. For Thomas, it might sometimes be better if we see a little more selfishness in his game.
He is a really quick skater, though he’s got a short, choppy stride when he’s accelerating. A little time with a pro skating coach could help him develop elite speed. He’s quick and agile and knows how to position his body to protect the puck from stronger defenders.
Most scouts will describe Thomas as a two-way center - though he’s going to have to get a lot stronger if he expects to stick at that position in the NHL. He is used in all situations, but he is most dangerous on the power play thanks to his keen vision and ability to get shots through traffic. He’s a decent penalty killer that uses his speed and anticipation to break up plays and make the opposing powerplay uncomfortable.
Thomas isn’t tiny, but he looks small on the ice. When he matches up with bigger opponents, he can come across as looking like a kid against men. As a result, Thomas has a bad habit of playing a lot on the perimeter. He needs to be willing to play down the middle and carry the puck through traffic if he’s going to stick at center once his junior career is over. In order to do that, he’s going to have to get a lot stronger - luckily he’s got time for that.
If developed properly, Thomas has the potential to be a very good secondary winger in the NHL. A guy that can kill penalties and add a threat to a team’s middle-6. Though it might take a while for him to get there.
Thomas led all OHL draft-eligible forwards in scoring with 81 points in 68 games. That number is a little deceiving as he capitalized on his teammates’ play a lot - he had the highest percentage of secondary assists of any player in the OHL this season.
Thomas also took advantage of his powerplay time. He was very dangerous with teh man advantage, but when you look at 5v5 primary points, he drops down to 10th among OHL draft eligible players - behind later round guys like Blade Jenkins, Curtis Douglas and and Matthew Struthers.
What The Scouts Are Saying
“There is an element of him that leaves you wanting more, but having said that, what you see and what you get on a nightly basis is still pretty good. Not sure if he’ll play center or the wing at the next level. He is a jack-of-all-trades player who understands the game well. Could stand to be more selfish at times.” - Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet
“Thomas has good straight-line speed and average first-step quickness, but he is elusive and agile within tight spaces. Opponents find difficulty in lining up Thomas for a hit because he makes sharp directional changes and anticipates puck movement extremely well. He’s a cerebral player and an excellent stickhandler with soft hands who positions himself properly to exploit mistakes in the neutral zone. Thomas’s zone entries are calculated, meaning he identifies options beyond barreling through or around opponents. He can slow things down or pivot back in order to find trailers or cutters, and releases for the slot area immediately after connecting with a teammate.” - Steve Kournianos/The Draft Analyst
Thomas is a quick, game-breaking offensive talent…skating ability is top-notch; the acceleration and top-end speed he can generate from his first few steps allows him to beat defenders around the edge and pounce on loose pucks…his ability to carry and control the puck at top speed is impressive…his puck control also can lead to some eye-popping moves, and he dominates one-on-one situations with a combination of skating, awareness and stickhandling ability…for a smaller player, he’s also quite good at protecting the puck; his patience and vision with the puck…intense and relentless around the net…a magnet on the puck…a very deadly shot with firecracker release…not currently strong enough to be a presence in board battles, but he’s not afraid to go after bigger players in the corner and initiate contact on the forecheck either…he needs to be more dedicated in his own end, as he often springs the zone and hopes for a Hail Mary pass instead of coming down into his zone to support his defenders…has the potential to become the complete offensive package in the NHL” - Future Considerations
Where He Might Get Drafted
Thomas is going to be a fringe first rounder. There’s a chance he sneaks into the top-25, but it’s far more likely that he ends up being drafted somewhere in the 25-40 range. He’s the kind of player that we often see dropping on draft day - the way Jeremy Bracco did. There’s a lot to like about his game - especially when you just look at his point total.
That said, there are issues when trying to project him as a pro prospect, so it will be understandable of he falls to the second round.