Our seventh annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings and the staff rankings to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 2, 2019, when the 2019-20 NHL season begins.
All things considered in regards to Akil Thomas, a six-spot slide is manageable when you look back at the inconsistencies he has faced. Projected as a first-round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old skater landed in the Kings’ lap at selection No. 51. Like Thomas’ listing as a first-round hopeful, roster dynamics and defensive hurdles could see his label as a center fade as well.
Armed with a deft touch and the agility required to weave through the offensive zone, Thomas has all the skills to thrive in the modern NHL. Defensively, the youngster still must prove that he can bring the same level of intensity on each shift. Those defensive lapses combine with the arrival of highly-touted rookie center Alex Turcotte to form the foundation for a potential shift in position.
Potential negatives aside, there is an abundance of things to like about Thomas’ potential. He seamlessly cycles from creating opportunities for others to positioning himself outside of the crease to clean up rebounds. Thomas adds to those traits with his fluid skating and stick control—making him an ideal fit to shift momentum on power plays.
Thomas’ offense reached a new level last season in the OHL. Nestled inside the Niagara IceDogs’ high-octane offense, the Toronto native recorded 38 goals and 64 assists. With a little help from his teammates (the IceDogs boasted three players inside the OHL’s top ten points leaderboard), Thomas pulled off a 21-point uptick. The regular season momentum stalled slightly for Thomas and the IceDogs in the postseason, netting the 19 year old just six points in eight appearances.
The World Junior Summer Showcase provided mixed results for Thomas. Mired in uneven production, Thomas was an afterthought in all but one of his appearances for the Canadians. On the positive side, Thomas explained that he is open to adjusting his role and position after Canada’s victory over Sweden at the WJSS.
Forecasting Thomas’ future with the Kings became much easier after the two sides agreed to a three-year entry level contract in mid-March. Barring an unforeseen series of events, Thomas should receive a long look from coach Todd McLellan’s staff before he returns to the OHL for next season.
Following Thomas’ signing, Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti spoke with LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen about the youngster’s fit with the organization. Unsurprisingly, Thomas’ position was discussed. According to Yannetti, the OHL’s lack of gritty defense could factor into Thomas’ uninspiring future as a two-way center.
“Yeah, I think he profiles as a center. It’s nice that he can play both. He certainly has all the attributes to become a successful wing as well as a center, and the more positions you can play, the better off you are. He needs to play a little bit better away from the puck, he needs to be a little more diligent. He’s definitely got to be stronger. He’s not close as strong enough to be a center in the NHL right now, not even close. But again, the greatest fallacy in the world is people who go back to junior hockey to work on their deficiencies, especially if they’re defensive. It’s just a flat-out lie. Junior teams don’t want these guys coming back playing a Selke game. They want these guys coming back putting a hundred points on the board.”
Before we get to the voting results, here is look at Thomas’ best moments with the IceDogs last season:
It appears that the staff and readers are in agreement on Thomas’ placement in the middle of the pack. His offensive potential is worthy of a spot in the top 10, but his mixed production inside the opposite blue line puts a firm ceiling on his returns.