Akil Thomas has the distinction of being both Canadian and American. The 6’0, 171lb forward was born in Toronto, but spent many years of his childhood in the United States as his father, Khalil Thomas, played minor professional hockey for different teams mostly in the United Hockey League and Central Hockey League. Since his father retired, however, Akil has been back in Toronto, tearing it up in juniors as a center and right winger (Elite Prospects has him as a center, as does the OHL’s stats page, but his own team, Niagara, has him listed as a RW currently. He can certainly play both). Despite also having American roots, Akil has specifically gone the Canadian route, playing for Canada internationally, and playing in the Ontario Hockey League to prepare for the NHL draft. As far as I am aware, this will continue next year, as he will not be going to the NCAA.
Unlike his father, who only was able to make it as far as a couple minor stints in the AHL, Akil will almost certainly make the NHL, and will probably do it as a regular and as a first round selection. Playing for the Niagara IceDogs the last two seasons, Akil has been particularly effective, becoming an assistant captain this past season. Given his production and potential, there is a chance Ray Shero can take him for the New Jersey Devils at 17, which would not be out of place given his projections.
Who is Akil Thomas?
As I mentioned above, Akil has played major junior hockey the past two seasons, gaining significant playing time for Niagara of the OHL. And he has been highly successful. Two seasons ago, his first in the league, he has 48 points in 61 games, a very solid number for a 17 year old. This season, he took his game to the next level as an assistant captain of the team, producing a whopping 81 points in 68 games. This was good for 14th in the entire league. Among draft-eligible forwards in the OHL, however, Akil was ranked 1st. No other draft-eligible forward had more points in that league. The interesting part about those stats, however, is that from last season to this one, his goal production remained basically the same. He scored 21 goals in 2016-17, and 22 goals in 2017-18. The difference clearly is with assists, and that is they key part of his game. Akil is a playmaker first and foremost, as evidenced by his insane 59 assists this year. That was good for 5th in the OHL.
This, then, is what you’re getting from the forward. If you draft Akil to be a pure goal scorer, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you are taking him to become a playmaker and make those around him better, then he is your guy. To further showcase this with stats, Akil had 198 shots this season, which was good for only 4th most on his team. He was an integral part of what Niagara did this year, and while he did take his fair amount of shots at the net, he was clearly more comfortable dishing it off and producing opportunities elsewhere.
Sadly for Akil, however, he has not performed overly well on the international stage over the last two seasons. He managed to make the always-competitive Canadian U18 team at the World Juniors each of the last two seasons, but did not do much once there. Last year, he did absolutely nothing offensively in 5 games for Canada, producing 0 points for a team that was ousted in the quarterfinals to Sweden by a 7-3 score. This year he did make it onto the stat sheet, but still ended up with only 1 goal and 1 assist in 4 games for a Canadian team that once again lost in the quarters, this time falling 2-1 to the Czech Republic. The lack of performance on the biggest stage can be seen as a big issue for some teams, and it could potentially hurt his draft stock this year. Had he been a strong producer internationally as well as in the OHL, he would almost certainly be a lottery selection. As it is, the answer is less certain.
Where is Thomas Ranked?
Central Scouting has Akil ranked as the #15 North American skater entering the draft. This was slightly down from the midterm rankings, where he was ranked #10. This could be because of his performance at Worlds, but I cannot say that to be certain. Either way, #15 would most likely put Akil in the first round this year, although that is a later first round projection, possibly after the Devils at #17.
Elsewhere, rankings for Thomas are only slightly divergent, with most having him in the 2nd half of the first round, but not all of them:
-Future Considerations has him ranked #17 overall, exactly where NJ picks
-Similarly, The Draft Analyst has him at #16
-Draft Site has Akil projected to go to San Jose at pick #21
-Further down the list, ISS has him at #27, a late first
-Sportsnet has him in the exact same spot, 27th
-Larry Fisher from The Hockey Writers, even worse, has him all the way down at #34
Given those rankings, I would venture to say there is a solid chance Akil will be on the board for New Jersey at #17 should Ray Shero and Co. decide they want him, but there is a small chance he goes slightly earlier. Either way, most would not consider Akil a reach if NJ takes him.
What Others Have Said About Thomas
The Draft Analyst, Steve Kournianos, has a piece up about Thomas on his website. His scouting report is all positives, which is not entirely unexpected for a player with a first round grade. Among other things, Steve wrote that Akil has “a deadly shot and high compete level…used in all situations, but he is most dangerous on the power play…keen vision…few players in his draft class who offer coaches the kind of versatility Thomas provides…elusive and agile within tight spaces…cerebral player and excellent stickhandler with soft hands who positions himself properly…zone entries are calculated.” I personally like a lot of what I hear from that. Sounds like a very smart player who can do a lot to help the team win.
Over at The Hockey Writers, Mark Scheig wrote a quality draft profile on Akil. In it, he writes mostly positives as well. Some snippets of praise: “one of the best overall playmakers in the draft…what stands out about Thomas is his leadership and work ethic…out in all situations…can effectively play both as a center and on the wing…an effective defender because he understands positioning…excellent decision maker…extremely agile.” Mark has Akil going to NJ at 17, much higher than #34, where Larry Fisher from the same website has Thomas going. However, he does have some concerns: “questions with Thomas start with his size…is he a center at the next level? Would he be able to keep up with bigger, stronger, and faster players?...when games grind to a halt on the wall, he’s at a disadvantage.” In the end, he says Akil has both a high ceiling and high floor. Middle-six winger at worst.
Ben Kerr also wrote a profile on Thomas at Last Word On Hockey about six weeks ago. While I have seen profiles from here that are not afraid to criticize, there is very little of that here. Ben has lots of positives to dish out to Akil, such as “he can absolutely fly…very dangerous off of the rush…a smart player taking advantage of this time and space to create passing lanes to teammates and set up scoring opportunities. He can also create space with very good stickhandling ability…controls the puck well down low and has the vision and passing skills to find open teammates…hounds puck carriers on the backcheck, and then quickly transitions to offence.” Kerr believes Akil has top-six potential, and equates his play style to David Krejci.
Last summer, Future Considerations wrote up a blurb about Thomas’ game. Among other things, they wrote that he has “game-breaking offensive talent…skating ability is top-notch…ability to carry and control the puck at top speed is impressive…dominates one-on-one situations…very deadly shot with firecracker release…has potential to become the complete offensive package in the NHL…not currently strong enough to be a presence in board battles…needs to be more dedicated in his own end.” It seems that since then, he has become more defensively sound, so that is a positive for sure.
A Little Video
Here is a highlight package from this past season:
If you’re interested in the nitty gritty, here is a shift-by-shift video of Akil in a playoff game against the Oshawa Generals back in March:
If you start the video at 3:27 here, you will see highlights from him over the last few seasons:
When you look at the pure draft projections for Akil Thomas, you might come to the conclusion that he would be a little bit of a reach at #17 for the Devils. The mean would certainly be a little bit lower, perhaps in the 20s somewhere. However, I don’t think that should deter Ray Shero from strongly considering him. He has many of the right intangibles that I think can make him successful in the NHL. He has a strong work ethic, is a team leader, gives it his all consistently, and on top of it, is great offensively, something New Jersey always could use more of. Yes he is more of a playmaker and you could argue that the Devils need more pure goal scorers right now, but Akil is not a plug and play guy like Nico Hischier was. It will take him a few years to develop more before he is truly NHL ready. By then, he might be even better with goal scoring, as many of those profiles mentioned his awesome shot. Also by then, NJ might want more playmakers anyway, and Akil certainly thrives in that role. If all we’re looking at in terms of needs are to bulk up, then I am on board with taking him, because that is something that he can and probably will do. He clearly wants to succeed, and if he knows that bulking up is the way to do that at the next level, then he definitely will.
For me, I would have zero issue if Shero takes Akil Thomas at #17. There could potentially be better players still available, and if someone falls that Shero projects to go higher, then I would take those players over Akil as well. But if the draft goes pretty much chalk and there are several guys Shero is looking at when #17 rolls around, then I hope that Akil is one of those players. He would make a great Devil.
That is my opinion about Akil Thomas. What is yours? Do you think he is someone Shero should be considering at #17, or do you think that is too high? If so, where do you think Thomas should go? Why would you be happy with Thomas as a Devil, or why wouldn’t you? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading another prospect profile here at AATJ!