Akil Thomas has gone to the dogs – the Niagara IceDogs.
The 16-year-old forward for the minor midget Toronto Marlboros was chosen by the major junior hockey IceDogs in the first round with the 12th overall pick in Saturday’s Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection draft.
“It’s the best day of my life right now,” Akil told me Saturday. “It’s a great team that’s doing well this year. They have a lot of guys leaving so it will give me a good opportunity to step in and get some ice time and play for a great organization.”
Akil, a Brandon, Florida, native, tallied 33 goals and 39 assists in 56 games for the Marlies in the 2015-16 season. He helped power the Marlies to the finals of the OHL Cup Showcase tournament last month.
The team lost to the York-Simcoe Express 2-1 in double-overtime. But Akil led the tournament in scoring with 6 goals and 7 assists in seven games and was named to the Gatorade OHL Cup All-Star Team.
“We’re excited to get him, IceDogs General Manager/Head Coach Marty Williamson told The St. Catharines Standard. “We really had him going in front of us. He was a pretty easy pick for us sitting there at 12… I really liked him. I thought in the OHL Cup he really put his team on his back.”
Still, Akil was surprised that he was drafted so high because he’s also weighing offers to play NCAA Division I hockey. Several schools, including Arizona State University, the University of New Hampshire, Boston University, Penn State University, University of Michigan, and the University of Maine have inquired about him, his family said.
Both the NCAA college hockey and major junior hockey routes are high-profile stepping stones to reaching the National Hockey League, Akil’s ultimate goal.
“I hadn’t made up my mind whether I was going to go NCAA or OHL and usually teams want to know 100 percent if they’re going to take a first-rounder,” Akil told me.
The IceDogs began heavily wooing Akil Saturday. The young forward and his family met with Williamson and some of the team’s players, including forward Josh Ho-Sang, a New York Islanders 2014 first-round draft pick. The team even gave Akil some of Ho-Sang’s sticks.
Ho-Sang, 20, is in his final season with the IceDogs. Depending on how he does in training camp in September, he could wind up in Brooklyn with the Islanders or skating for the team’s American Hockey League farm team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the 2016-17 season.
“Our whole family met with him today,” Akil said of Ho-Sang, who also played minor midget hockey for the Marlies. “It was cool that I got to meet him. It’s kind of cool that maybe I could fill his shoes someday, if I were to play for the IceDogs.”
The IceDogs also drafted Akil’s best friend and Marlies teammate, defenseman Pierre-Luc Cote Forget, in the ninth round.
Akil comes from solid hockey stock. His father, Kahlil Thomas, was a right wing who played in 828 pro games for 13 teams in nine leagues in three countries from 1996 to 2008.
Thomas and his wife, Akilah, own the Oshawa RiverKings of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League. Akil’s uncle, Leo Thomas, is a forward who split time this season between the Mississippi RiverKings of the Southern Professional Hockey League and the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets.