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Photo Credit: NHL.com

With the 25th Overall Pick, the Toronto Maple Leafs Select… Akil Thomas?

Who is Akil Thomas?

First things first: Akil Thomas finished high school early, is already taking college classes, and started his own clothing line with a friend, all while leading the Niagara Ice Dogs in scoring for 2017-18 as an alternate captain. Okay, so now if you see any nonsense questioning his “work ethic” you’ll know not to pay any attention!

Although he was born in Florida, Thomas grew up in Toronto hockey, and he can play either centre or right wing (true of many forwards in major junior). He has spent much of his time at centre for the Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL), and he was a huge contributor on a mediocre 2017-18 team. Although he was 14th in league scoring overall, Thomas was first in points among all draft-eligible forwards. He also had an outstanding rookie season in Niagara, putting up 48 points in 61 games and cracking the OHL First All-Rookie Team (alongside Ryan Merkley and Eemeli Rasanen).

At the junior level, he’s been a successful two-way centre, but his size (6’0”, 170lb) may discourage teams from looking at him for a position down the middle. That being said, Thomas is one of the best playmakers in the draft, and he’s only 18, with a couple more years to grow in juniors. One of the most promising aspects of his game–and an indication of his ability to grow as a centre–is that Thomas can get the puck off his stick as quickly as necessary, but he doesn’t force a play that isn’t there, and he’ll wait for the right pass if he needs to.

Although Thomas routinely played for Niagara in all situations, it’s been noted that he could stand to improve his strength, especially in puck battles. He’s an impressive skater (with some room to grow), and while he could stand to be a little more assertive at times, it’s more a lack of strength or confidence than a question of willingness or energy.

Where is Thomas ranked?

Ranked #17 by Future Considerations
Ranked #27 by ISS Hockey
Ranked #26 by McKeen’s Hockey
Ranked #15 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

What the numbers say about Thomas

The Eye Test

What’s been said about Thomas

McKeen’s Hockey:

Thomas is a talented playmaking forward who can line up at center or wing and whose vision and hockey IQ are both among the best of any forward in the draft.

The Draft Analyst:

It’s not too farfetched to predict Thomas making money in the NHL as a winger, but he was penciled in as a center for the entire season and proved to be one of the OHL’s better set-up men. Most of his points come from hard work and Thomas’s advanced brain that helps him create his own luck. He has a deadly shot and can stickhandle his way into clean zone entries with regularity.

Sam Cosentino (Sportsnet):

There is an element of him that leaves you wanting more, but having said that, what you see and what you get on a nightly basis is still pretty good. Not sure if he’ll play center or the wing at the next level. He is a jack-of-all-trades player who understands the game well. Could stand to be more selfish at times.

Why the Leafs should draft Akil Thomas

If Thomas is still available at #25 (which a lot of mock drafts indicate he could be), he’s arguably the best player on the board. And you should always take the best player on the board. The Leafs have no excuse to draft for position (not that it’s ever advisable), and adding a talented potential centre would be a good move. Like most of the players taken after the top five or so, Thomas probably isn’t going to miraculously be NHL-ready next year, nor should he be. The Leafs, of all teams, can certainly afford to take their time with forward prospects, and Thomas can continue his growth at the junior level for now. If the Leafs are lucky, other teams will be put off by his size (and bizarrely rumoured “questionable work ethic”) and he’ll still be on the board when Toronto picks at 25th.

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