Before today, if you did a quick search on Akil Thomas’ name on Twitter, you’d mostly find tweets criticizing his play at the World Junior Summer Showcase. The complaints weren’t without merit; Thomas sometimes looked disengaged, not jumping into plays or being the sort of stand-out on the ice that you’d expect from someone with his scoring prowess.
It took Thomas less than a minute to change the narrative in today’s matchup against Sweden, as he opened scoring for Canada just 19 seconds into the first period.
That early goal appeared to set the tone for him. Throughout the entire game, Thomas was engaged in all three zones, making smart plays and getting involved rather than lurking on the perimeter. Some of Thomas’ success today may have come from being moved to wing from his natural center position. Shifting Thomas to right wing freed him up from some of the defensive responsibilities of a center and allowed him to play more to his strenghts.
Thomas also picked up an assist, drew several penalties, blocked shots, and finished the game with four shots on goal.
Talking to media after the game, Thomas said that some of his improved performance was due to just simply being more comfortable on ice. “Definitely the first game is weird, getting right into a game situation, it being summer, not playing games, but third game around, I felt pretty good and felt pretty comfortable out there,” he said.
Thomas, who dealt with injuries last season, including one that took him out of last year’s Summer Showcase, has been working on improving his strength for this year. “It’s one thing I noticed this showcase, I felt really strong, feel like I could bump a lot of guys off the puck,” Thomas said. Improving his strength was a focus of his in the off-season and he said he felt as though he’d accomplished that goal.
His ability and willingness to play up and down the lineup, in whatever position he’s asked to take, could bode well for him being selected to represent Canada at the upcoming World Juniors tournament. “I can take faceoffs, I can play center, I can play wing, I can be a power forward, I can be a playmaker,” Thomas said in describing his versatility. “I want to be a guy that the team can depend on in situations like that, score a big goal, just play whatever the coach needs, because an event like this, everyone’s so good and skilled. So being versatile is pretty valuable.”
More notes from Michigan...
- Forward Aidan Dudas had a break-out game as well for Canada, recording three assists. While he didn’t have a shot on goal of his own, he was instrumental in helping to drive some of Canada’s offense. While he’s a smaller player, he wasn’t afraid to get physical, even with larger players, up against the boards, and more than once found himself in the middle of a scrum.
- Dudas made his professional debut last season with the Ontario Reign, joining them on an Amateur Try-Out contract after his season ended with the Owen Sound Attack. Of his time with the Reign, Dudas said: “I think it it’s going to help me in the future to understand what it’s like to play professional hockey and it’s not just about what you do on the ice, it’s how you recover and do all the little things right.” Sounds like he had some good mentors in the veteran players there on the Reign.
- Dudas also gave some thoughts on his former Owen Sound teammates, Markus Phillips and Sean Durzi, both of whom are slated to play for the Ontario Reign this season. On Durzi, Dudas is predicting an NHL debut sooner rather than later: “Durzi is a very highly skilled, highly smart defenseman that will play on the power play for sure. I think he’ll probably get a few NHL games next year, if not be out there all year.” On Phillips, who plays a less flashy game than Durzi, Dudas said: “[He’s] a more defensive defenseman who likes to move the puck, really smooth skater. Big body, likes to use his weight.”
- In the later afternoon game against Finland, Arthur Kaliyev had a power play goal for Team USA and recorded six shots on goal. He was active and engaged in the play, showing off his speed when entering the zone, and worked to go after pucks instead of waiting for them to come to him. While he’s shown several times throughout this tournament that he does have a good eye for passing, he’s also not afraid to shoot the puck once he gets it on his stick. Kaliyev is second among all players in total shots taken; his 19 total shots are behind only Cole Caufield.
Play finishes tomorrow with two big rivalry games. Sweden and Finland face off at 10:00 a.m. Pacific and the US and Canada will close things out at 1:00 p.m. Pacific. Games will air on the NHL Network in the US and TSN in Canada.