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Thomas At The Beginning Of His Own Journey

Draft-eligible forward grew up around hockey

by Scott MacDonald / is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas on June 22-23. Forward Akil Thomas is the No. 15-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the 16th overall selection at the draft.

Niagara IceDogs forward Akil Thomas moved around a lot while growing up, but hockey was always a constant in his life.

Thomas called many different places home because his father, Kahlil Thomas, was a journeyman minor-league hockey player. Kahlil played for 13 different teams in nine different leagues and three different countries between 1996 and 2008.

"I was born in Toronto, then moved to Mississippi then to Flint, then Oklahoma then to Orlando to Jacksonville and then back to Orlando," the younger Thomas told was with his family every step of the way and seeing his dad play hockey meant that he was perpetually close to a sheet of ice.

"I grew up going to the rink with him every day," he continued. "I watched his team practice and I always had a lot of ice available to me as a kid after those practices. Hockey was my life, so as I started getting older it became obvious I would pursue it one day.

"That's what I'm trying to do now."

Thomas is the No. 15 ranked player on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters and the third center on the list.

At 5-foot-11 and 171-pounds, Thomas is considered to be on the smaller side of the draft eligible players, but the forward puts up big numbers.

During the 2016-17 season, his first in the OHL, Thomas racked up 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) in 61 games, setting an IceDogs franchise record for rookie scoring. At the end of the season, he finished second in the OHL Rookie of the Year voting and was named to the league's All-Rookie Team.

His outstanding first year impressed his coaches and he earned an "A" on his chest as one of the assistant captains for Niagara ahead of his sophomore season.

"Sometimes I need to remind myself he's just 17, in his second year, but he's a leader for us. He's got to be our smartest player. His 200-foot game is outstanding," IceDogs head coach Billy Burke told the National Post.

Thomas tallied 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists) in 68 games this campaign, ranking second on the club in points and first in assists. Overall, Thomas was 14th in scoring and dished out the fifth-most helpers of all OHL skaters.

The 18-year-old helped the IceDogs to the second round of the playoffs, putting up 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 10 games before falling to the eventual OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs.

Video: Akil Thomas Scouting Report

His season earned him a spot on Team Canada's IIHF U-18 World Championship roster, where the forward notched a goal and an assist in four games. Thomas and Canada earned the top seed in Group A in round-robin play, but the team fell to the Czech Republic in the first-round quarterfinal matchup.

Thomas' success could be attributed to his tenacity on the ice, something a lot of scouts have observed about his game.

"He needs and wants the puck, and that hunger is going to get him to the NHL," said Karl Stewart of NHL Central Scouting. "He's the new hybrid of NHL wingers. It used to be that the center was the guy who touched the puck the most, but now it's the wings who can orchestrate plays, and Thomas is that type of player.

"You won't take the puck away from Akil Thomas just because of his hunger for it and the way he protects it."

Though he has been around hockey all his life and called many different hockey organizations home, Thomas is just beginning his own journey.

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