Following last night’s 5-3 victory over the Hamilton Bulldogs, I had the opportunity to sit down with Akil Thomas of the Niagara Ice Dogs. Thomas is one of the top prospects for the 2018 NHL Draft, ranked 22nd in our February Draft Rankings. While he has spent time at both centre and right wing over the past two years, he has mostly been at centre of late.
Watching him in action on Saturday, the following was noted.
Scouting Akil Thomas
Thomas, like his teammates, seemed to struggle just a bit in the first period. On one play he was carrying the puck on a three on two. Thomas used a quick change of speed and good acceleration to split the d and get himself in a great position for a scoring chance on Fulcher. However, he got too cute, dishing a backhand pass to a teammate, who was actually in a worse scoring position than Thomas. That pass was behind him and resulted in a wasted chance.
Later in the period, he made a nice rush up the right side of the ice but held on to the puck too long, and the Hamilton defence swarmed on him as he ran out of space to make a play.
Things got much better in the second period though. Thomas was more assertive and direct with his play. He made a number of impressive, one-time passes to teammates to set up scoring chances. This shows his excellent vision and anticipation, as well as his passing skill. On another second period rush, he cut to the net and showed off a strong backhand from a sharp angle that just missed the net.
Thomas got better as the game went on, and the third period was his best. He scored a powerplay goal, with a quick release on a wrist shot, going top shelf on the powerplay. He had a great chance to score a second goal late in the third, picking up a rebound and just getting stopped by Fulcher with a quick pad save at the post. Thomas was also instrumental in playing strong defensive hockey in the third period as the IceDogs protected their lead. Again the defensive game was much better in the third than it was in the first period, as he was much more engaged in the play. He even earned the trust of his coaches to be on the ice in the last minute, as the IceDogs protected a one-goal lead with the Hamilton net empty.
One on One Interview
LWOH: Tell me about your goal in the third period.
Akil Thomas: It was kind of a broken play. They almost got the puck out and I just kept it in. (Sam) Miletic made a nice pass to (Kirill) Maksimov. Maksimov was looking to shoot and then he saw me. I just got it quick and got it by (Ben) Jones and the goalie. I saw a hole and put it there.
LWOH: It seemed that your team had a bit of a slow start in the first period, but then took over the game in the second and third. What did you talk about during the first intermission, and what adjustments were made?
AT: We were talking about how much these guys really don’t like to play against us. When we are playing our game, then it is hard for them. In the first, we did not play how we play and it was pretty easy for them to generate chances. We just rallied together to play how we play in the second and third.
LWOH: Over the season you have played a bit at wing, you have played at centre, is there a position that you prefer?
AT: I think that I am a natural centreman, but I can play on the wing as well. I played on the wing at the Hlinka, and I played the wing last year as well. I have played the wing quite a bit, but also played centre. Whatever the team needs me to play is what I will play. I don’t feel uncomfortable in either spot.
LWOH: Have you felt any added pressure knowing that this is your draft year, and how have you dealt with it as the season has gone on?
AT: At the beginning of the year, you feel that its a lot different than any other year. I was struggling a bit from being stressed out and anxious to really play well. Now, I am more relaxed and taking it one game at a time. I feel I am doing well now.
LWOH: What do you need to do to succeed in the OHL Playoffs?
AT: We have to play how we play. That is pretty much it. There is no other way to put it. When we play well, we can beat any team. (The Bulldogs) could be a team that we could play in the playoffs. We can make it past the second round if we really play the way that we play.
I’d like to thank Akil Thomas, as well as the Niagara IceDogs and the Hamilton Bulldogs for giving LWOH access on Saturday Night. The Bulldogs next home game will be their playoff opener on March 22nd. Meanwhile, Niagara has has a home game today against Windsor, and on March 15th have a re-match against Hamilton.
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