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Thomas aiming to get bigger, stronger for Kings

Prospect's physical development likely to determine eventual position in NHL

by Dan Greenspan / Correspondent

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Akil Thomas' playmaking ability made him attractive to the Los Angeles Kings, who selected the 18-year-old center in the second round (No. 51) of the 2018 NHL Draft.

The question is: What position will Thomas play when he reaches the NHL?

Thomas had 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists) last season for Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League. He finished fifth in the OHL in assists and followed that up by showing he can distribute during the Kings development camp last month.

During the first three scrimmages, Thomas lined up at center, but during the final session played left wing next to Gabe Vilardi, selected by Los Angeles with the No. 11 pick in the 2017 draft.

Mike O'Connell, a senior advisor to Kings general manager Rob Blake who oversees the development camp, said the switch "just happened that way," and Thomas said he doesn't have a preference between the two positions.

"I have more experience at center just because I've played center my whole life, but played wing at minor midget a little bit," Thomas said. "I played wing my first year in the [OHL], so I kind of adjusted pretty well, and it's just kind of a matter of adapting for me."

What might determine where Thomas plays is how his body develops in the coming years. He arrived at development camp at 5-foot-11 and 177 pounds, and can continue to add size and strength to his frame. He will need to get considerably bigger to be the kind of two-way center the Kings have built around in recent seasons.

Center Jaret Anderson-Dolan, chosen by Los Angeles in the second round (No. 41) of the 2017 draft, knows from experience how the Kings development staff can help oversee the physical progression Thomas needs to make.

"They definitely regulate it," Anderson-Dolan said. "They want you at a certain weight. They talk to you throughout the year, and you have to fill things out to kind of keep them updated, and they talked to our trainers in our junior team as well, so they do a good job of keeping on top of that."

Kings coach John Stevens remembers the days when players handled all that work themselves.

"Seems like every player nowadays has a personal trainer," Stevens said. "I never had one when I played. I … just figured it out."

Having already put in considerable time to improve his physique, Thomas remains committed to that aim.

"A year or two ago, I probably weighed around 160," he said. "Now I'm at 176, 178, so I have gained quite a lot, and hopefully growing up I want to be around 190."

Even at his current size, seeing Thomas up close convinced Stevens the Kings got a bargain.

"You talk to some people, they thought he was going to be a first-rounder, but I don't know," Stevens said. "Teams have different needs and maybe have a different idea of the kind of player they want to get, but we're certainly excited to have [him]."

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