EL SEGUNDO, CA — Brand, spanking new draft pick, forward prospect Akil Thomas, had a bit of a rough start in his first exposure to the Los Angeles Kings.
Indeed, Thomas, who was selected by the Kings in the second found (51st overall) of the 2018 National Hockey League Draft on June 23, 2018, arrived on time for the team’s 2018 Development Camp for their young prospects. Unfortunately, his equipment did not.
“I don’t have my bag, so I was using all new equipment and I was pretty nervous because it’s my first development camp,” said the 18-year-old, 5-11, 177-pound native of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “But it was good to get on the ice a couple of times today and get to know all the guys.”
“Today, it was teaching us puck protection and tight turns,” added Thomas, who scored 22 goals and added 59 assists for 81 points in 69 regular season games with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League this past season. “It was about fundamental skills. Pretty much, that’s all we did today—protecting the puck. When you get to the higher levels, you have to protect the puck against bigger, stronger guys, so that’s something I want to work on, for sure.”
“It’s pretty specific. They showed us clips of how their top players do things and some techniques they use. At the next level, all the little details matter and [the development staff] knows what they’re talking about.”
Thomas wasn’t just exposed to new things on the ice during development camp, which was held June 25-29.
“I’ve never been around the West Coast at all,” he indicated. “I grew up playing minor hockey in Florida, so I had to travel a lot for good competition. I’m used to hopping on a plane and playing hockey.”
Given the large amount of travel the Kings do each season, that will be useful, should Thomas make the Kings roster someday.
<p>As reported in this space on June 26, the Kings put Thomas through some very tough pre-draft interviews, mostly to assess his character.
“They were pretty tough on me,” he noted. “I think I spoke to them four times before the draft. I spoke to them the week before the [NHL Draft] Combine and I think that was the hardest one. It was around an hour. They pinpointed things that I need to work on and asked me why they shouldn’t worry about those things in the future and why they should draft me.”
“It was tough because in some cases, you don’t really know the answer,” he added. “You have to throw your best answer out there and hope they take it. They asked tough questions that you didn’t want to answer the wrong way, so I just answered truthfully, whether it was going to have a negative impact or not.”
“I remember my second meeting with them and they were talking about how they can tell when guys are not being truthful and could I tell that, by revealing that, they were comfortable with me. They felt that I was being truthful. After that, I felt comfortable with them.”
Also reported here on June 26, consistency, along with his strength and conditioning will be key for Thomas’ development.
“I need to work on my consistency,” he said. “When I’m playing my best, I’m as good as pretty much anyone in the  draft. It’s just bringing that every night. That’s going to be something that I focus on next year. I’m going to try to have a good game every game and try to lead my team to a Memorial Cup Championship. I really want to prove to them that if I’m going to focus on it, it’s going to happen.”
Thomas pointed out that physical maturity has come a bit later for him than for most of his peers and that this has affected his consistency.
“Consistency comes with maturity,” he noted. “I was a late bloomer. I kind of grew late. I’m just getting my man muscles now, as opposed to players [of the same age] who’ve had them for years.”
“I’m starting to mature now,” he added. “I’m feeling a lot stronger. I even grew a little bit in the last couple of months, so I’m not ever sure that I’m done growing. I’m going to take a big step next season in my [strength and conditioning], so hopefully, I won’t get burnt out late in the season and I can play with more consistency.”
Thomas also played a lot against top players on both offense and defense (also reported in this space on June 26).
“A part of that, too, is that I was thrown into a good opportunity with Niagara where I was playing against the other team’s top players,” he observed. “If I’m playing against the other team’s top players, maybe that makes me inconsistent because I might not be able to dominate a guy who’s two, three or four years older.”
In somewhat similar fashion to defenseman Drew Doughty, who was a Kings fan since he was playing youth hockey, Thomas was already a bit of a Kings fan before he was drafted by them.
“After they won their first Cup [in 2012], that’s when I hopped on the bandwagon,” he said. “I used them in video games. I’ve always kind of been an LA Kings fan.”
“My head coach, Dave Bell, moved to the Ontario Reign [to become an assistant coach],” he added. “So I thought that, if I was ever part of the LA Kings, I’d be very happy with it.”
That probably explains why, despite the rough start, Thomas had such a big, ear-to-ear smile on his face after the first day of the Kings 2018 Development Camp.
LEAD PHOTO: Center Akil Thomas shown here during the the Los Angeles Kings 2018 Development Camp at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, June 26, 2018. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net..
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