After leading his junior team in scoring this past season, Akil Thomas will likely be one of the first few centres taken off the board at this year’s NHL Entry Draft.
Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario
Weight: 170 lbs.
Team: Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Thomas led all Niagara IceDogs players in points during his second season with the team, scoring 22 goals and 81 points in 68 games this season. He then led his IceDogs to the second round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, adding 11 points in 10 games played. The IceDogs lost to the eventual champion Hamilton Bulldogs in five games.
The forward is characterized as a two-way player who can play effectively at both ends of the ice. Solid defensive play is of high importance to him. He is often seen directing teammates to maximize the team's efficiency in their own end, while also looking around to make sure he is himself in the right coverage position. He is very active in the defensive zone and relentless on opposing puck-carriers. After his work wins the puck back, Thomas is quick and intelligent in helping create effective breakouts.
On the offensive side of the game, Thomas has some good hands, but his distribution skills are his main asset. He has a good vision of the ice that allows him to quickly see teammates in scoring positions and feed the puck to them. He is accurate in his passes and can also open space for others with his work low in the offensive zone. On occasion, he can manipulate defenders’ sticks to open passing lanes to the slot.
Thomas’ primary-assist total improved by 18 from his rookie year to this past season. He also averaged 1.19 points per game while averaging nearly three shots per contest.
While he has not yet shown that he is a natural goal-scorer, Thomas has some tools in his arsenal that allowed him to put up his 22 goals this season. He can maximize his shot by using the defenders as a screen, hiding when and where he is going to fire, and also has shown the ability to change his point of release, by, for example, bringing the puck quickly closer to his body, or making a quick lateral push at the last second to fool goaltenders.
But he also works hard in the offensive zone and collects some goals right at the doorstep.
What fuels Thomas' 200-foot game, and is probably the best aspect of the prospect's game, is his great skating ability.
He has developed a beautiful and effective long stride that helps him generate a lot of power and forward momentum. After helping his defence in his end, he can outrace opponents in the neutral zone to support his linemates off the rush to create scoring chances the other way.
He is quick and agile, which means that he is able to twist and turn to keep the puck away from pokechecks while under pressure, and is usually first on any loose puck.
With his first few steps, he can create separation from defenders after winning possession or pulling off a stickhandling move on them, and explode away to reach a teammate in a shooting position, or even attack the slot himself.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Future Considerations: #17
ISS Hockey: #27
McKeen’s Hockey: #18
NHL Central Scouting: #15 (North American skaters)
Thomas is one of the best centres available in the draft. He had an overall disappointing U18 World Championship, where he was outplayed by players ranked lower than him, and that may make teams putting a lot of stock in that tournament hesitate to take him, which could see him drop a few spots.
That being said, his great OHL season is a big enough testament to his talent, and it would be surprising to see him fall all the way to the second round where the Montreal Canadiens could select him.
No matter what transpires on the draft weekend, Thomas will still need more time in the OHL before being NHL-ready. The good news is that he has a more mature game than the majority of prospects, so he could potentially still make an early jump to the big leagues.
Stats via Prospect-Stats