Niagara IceDogs forward Akil Thomas wants to thank all the National Hockey League teams that bypassed him in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft. He looks forward to repaying them for the snub.
“Yeah, yeah, definitely,” Thomas said. “You know, (I) was just sitting in my bed last night…thinking of things I want to do and accomplish to kind of say thank you for maybe not believing in me. And you made me kind of get hungry, and you made me want to do more things.”
Thomas hopes to do those things for the Los Angeles Kings, the team that finally selected him in the second round Saturday with the 51st overall pick in the draft.
Ranked the 15th-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, the 5-foot-11, 171-pound Thomas was projected as a first-round pick by many hockey experts.
He notched 22 goals and 59 assists in 68 games and served as an assistant captain for the Ontario Hockey League IceDogs.
He contributed 5 goals and 6 assists in 10 OHL playoff games last season. Thomas also played for Canada in the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World Junior Championship, tallying a goal and an assist in four games.
“I was hoping to go yesterday, so towards the end of the round I was getting kind of nervous and it’s something I’ll always remember,” Thomas said. “And (I) definitely was a little bit upset after. But, you know, I thought about it (and) at the end of the day, I have a job to do. I’m going to get an opportunity. And I get to prove a lot of people wrong. And I love doing that.”
Thomas has a strong hockey pedigree. His father, Khalil Thomas, was a career minor league player. His uncle, Leo Thomas, was recently named head coach of the Macon Mayhem of the Southern Professional Hockey League. He’s currently North America’s only black professional hockey head coach.
Akil Thomas’ father and mother, Akilah Thomas, are owners of the Oshawa RiverKings of Canada’s Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) June 21, 2018
Thomas’ path to the NHL Draft and the Los Angeles was marked by a series of key decisions.
He began playing organized hockey in the United States and caught the attention of scouts when he helped a Florida AAA youth hockey team win a championship in Philadelphia in 2008 when he was eight years old.
As his game improved, Thomas’ parents faced a dilemma – whether to stay in the Sunshine State or relocate to where there’s a larger pool of competitive players to push their son to be the best.
In 2011, the family packed their bags for Toronto – where Kahlil grew up – so Akil could play prep school hockey at Upper Canada College. This season, he skated for St. Michael’s College School and the minor midget hockey Toronto Marlboros Marlies.
After minor midget hockey, Thomas had to decide whether to play major junior hockey or opt to skate for NCAA Division I colleges that were recruiting him like Arizona State University, University of New Hampshire, Penn State University or Boston University.
He decided on that major junior route and signed with the IceDogs, which selected him with the 12th overall pick of the 2016 OHL Priority Selection Draft.
Then Thomas had to decide which country he would play for in international competition. Born in Florida, he could play for Team USA or Team Canada. He settled on wearing the maple leaf on his jersey.
Erica L. Ayala contributed to this report. Follow her @elindsay08.
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.