By JACK LeGWIN
Akil Thomas had a traveling childhood, having seen every part of the Eastern United States and Canada through the game of hockey.
“My dad played hockey in Mississippi, he played in Michigan, Oklahoma, Kissimmee and Jacksonville,” Thomas said. “That’s how I ended up in Florida, but when I was 10 or 11 we moved to Toronto.”
Thomas’ father Kahlil significantly impacted Akil’s life both on and off the ice.
“I realized during my early years playing in the OHL that he has been a huge role model for me,” Akil explained. “He’s always been there to coach me and to tell me where I need to improve, giving me confidence, telling me where I’m good and where I need to advance. He’s been a key person in my development on the ice. He works with me in the summer a lot, so he’s put everything into helping me become a good player.”
Thomas noted that he has had a different connection with every single city he lived in over the course of his childhood.
“I think I connected with every place in a certain way,” Thomas said. “I skated for my first time in Mississippi, but in Flint, I really learned what hockey was. My dad was a big deal around town. Oklahoma was where I was in my first league, and that was the start of my career in a way. Kissimmee was where I was on my first team and got my first jersey. Each place stood out in its own way.”
Moving so often as a kid can have its difficulties but Thomas allowed that it really helped to show him what life was going to be like moving forward.
“It’s taught me at a very young age about what the hockey life was,” Thomas said. “You can get up and leave places often. With hockey you’re going to have to move a lot, move randomly, but you’re going to have to give up seeing your friends and family at times. I experienced that myself, moving away from home at the age of 16 last year. I think I handled that a bit better than a typical 16 year old, because of my previous experiences doing just that.”
And well prepared Thomas was, scoring 48 points in 61 games (21 G- 27A). He has already surpassed that total this year with 59 points in 49 games (15G- 44A).
As the leading scorer of the Niagara Ice Dogs, Thomas understands that the role he has naturally come into carries a certain responsibility.
“I feel like I handled it pretty well,” Thomas said. “Being in the OHL we know that all eyes are on us during the year. In public people are looking out for us sometimes, so we have to learn to be professional, I think I’ve done pretty well. I don’t have any problems with that. I got to see what my dad did, so I understood that well. If you’re a professional athlete you have to be responsible in public.”
With multiple young NHL players making an impact early in their careers, including Connor McDavid, Noah Hanifin, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Brayden Point and Brock Boeser who all were selected to All Star teams, Thomas expressed a desire to follow in their footsteps.
“That’s exactly what I want to do,” Thomas said. “Now is the time for young guys to come in the league and make an impact right away. I think the guys the last couple years have set the bar high. It’s been cool to watch. It’s surreal to think that could be me one day.”
As for what he can bring to the team that will draft him in the coming draft, Thomas said he believes he can bring a versatile skill set.
“I think I bring a two-way game to teams,” Thomas said. “I have a good hockey sense, so I can make plays and I like to have the puck on my stick. I think the best thing about me though is I take responsibility in my own end. I take pride in my defensive game. I take pride in my draws as well.”
Thomas continued on to say, “I want to be a difference maker at the end of games. Whether it’s scoring a late goal, making a play in the defensive end, or winning a face-off late, I just want to help my team win my games.”
Watching the World Juniors tournament holds great memories for Thomas. It showed him how he could be a role model for the next generation of talent in the game of hockey.
“When I lived in Florida, I came up to Toronto during Christmas to visit family,” Thomas said. “My uncles and I would all get together and watch the World Juniors. It would mean the world to me (to play in them). It would emphasize the fact that I’m not the kid watching anymore. I can be someone, something…I can be someone that kids can look up to.”
Video: NHL Prospects
Thomas is currently projected as a mid first round pick by multiple publications.