Kings 2019 Dev Camp Preview: Five Questions with Akil Thomas

Thomas Akil hockey OHLFor the three players we chose to profile in this year’s Dev Camp Preview series, we tried to be as diverse as possible. Things began with goaltender Jacob Ingham, a late round draft pick by the Kings. Then, we chatted with defenseman Sean Durzi, who was coming off of winning the OHL Championship a few months after being traded by Toronto to Los Angeles. We saved forward Akil Thomas for the end – and, of course, he one-upped us by taking the diversity theme to a whole new level, as you’ll see in this interview…

MM: With the NHL Draft this past weekend, what type of memories does that stir up for you from last year, hearing your name called…

I remember going down to the Draft in Dallas in an RV. I actually had no idea Development Camp was the day after, so I didn’t bring any gear. At Dev Camp last year, I had all new gear and I was trying to break it in all camp, which obviously isn’t ideal. The whole experience is crazy. I was ranked to go in the first round, so that first night was tough because I was expecting to go in the first round. As a family, we had made plans to do stuff on Saturday, so it felt like I kind of messed up everyone’s plans. I still went pretty early in the second round on Saturday, to the team that was my dream team, so it all worked out in the end. Honestly, Friday was one of the toughest nights I’ve had to go through, but Saturday kind of made up for it.

Then, I had one more day with family before being sent to LA for camp. I didn’t really know what to expect or what a Dev Camp was, no one really told me. I didn’t know what to expect, were we going to play games or not? It was cool meeting some of the guys, the Kings staff, being in the LA locker room, getting all of my Kings pants, gloves, and stuff. At the same time, I still felt like a kid walking into a locker room to tour it. It was weird, actually getting dressed in it. Dev Camp was also an eye-opener because you see a lot of good players, where only very little things separate those players. It showed me that hard work on little elements in your game make the biggest difference. I learned a lot from every time I was on the ice and from all the Development guys. They’re so smart, hockey is their life. I was welcomed very well and this time around I feel really confident because I know what to expect.

Akil Thomas: Moving From Kings Fan to Kings Prospect

MM: How important is to make an impression at the big end of camp scrimmage on Thursday?

It’s definitely very important. Last year, I was a little timid. Even little things like going into the gym, there are massage devices we can use, but I was afraid to touch one because I had just been drafted and didn’t want to push any limits. I was very scared to make a mistake or ask a dumb question. This year, it’s going to be way better and that should translate to the ice. Last Development Camp, the scrimmages were very, very high-paced. Now that I know what to expect, plus I’m faster and stronger now – so, I definitely want to leave an impression during the scrimmages. My mindset this whole summer is, ‘I’m making the LA Kings next year.’ The chances may not be in my favor, but that doesn’t really matter to me. This summer, every workout I go to, I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to make the Kings roster.’ I’m going into this Dev Camp – especially during the scrimmages – to show them that I’ve developed a lot over the past year and that they can use me next year in their lineup.

MM: You had a fantastic year in the OHL, putting up career-best numbers of 38 goals and 102 points. Are there any key moments when you think back on your season in Niagara:

We had a really good team. Having a lot of points, that came from having really good linemates and having a really good power play and really good coaches. I’m grateful for the year; I had a lot of fun. It was cool to not have the pressure [of the season before]. I was already drafted and then towards end of this season I signed [my Entry Level Contract with the Kings], so lots of pressure was taken off my back. That made me better. I’m the kind of player that holds himself to a high standard. If I messed up during my draft year, I would think I’m going to slip in the draft now. That’s just naturally how I thought. Not having that that in me helped me during my bad points of my season. It was also my third year in the OHL, so I was pretty confident and I didn’t have that many bad games. I just had fun out there.

Winning our division title was definitely a highlight of our season. Even though we may have been expected to win it, we had to battle it out a bit with Sudbury at the end there. Then, our first round was pretty tough against North Bay. We won the series 4-1, but every game was tough. They’re kind of the team to run guys and stuff like that, so it was fun getting done with them. It was disappointing how we finished, though [losing 4-2 to Oshawa in the second round]. When people bring that up; I just say, ‘Let’s talk about something else.’ Even when I went to LA after the season for a checkup appointment with the Dr., a guy in the airport asked me, ‘How did you guys lose to Oshawa?’

MM: On a higher note, I’ll assume you were pretty pleased last week when you found out you had been invited to Team Canada’s summer evaluation camp…

Definitely happy being named to that roster. It’s one of my dreams to win a World Junior tournament with Team Canada, so this will be one step in accomplishing it. For me, every summer I think I get a lot better. This year, my off-season focus is to come into all of my camps – from Canada, to the Kings, to Niagara — as a completely different player than I was the year prior. In my eyes, I had a decent year this season, so the odds were good I would be invited to the Canada camp. However, I’m going to show them that I’m not just going to be a good player on their team, I want to be the backbone of their team if I play for them this December. I want to be a leader. I want to lead that team to a championship. We’ll cross that bridge later. Right now my mind is focused on not even playing in the World Juniors, but playing with LA. I don’t care about the chances are, that’s what I’m going to think about this summer.

MM: You’re always up to some interesting stuff off the ice. In the past we’ve talked about your tattoos and your clothing line, what type of new things are you up to these days?

There’s a movie, it’s more a documentary about black hockey players, called Soul on Ice. They’ve shown in several big cities around North America. It tells the stories about the first black hockey players and how they paved the path for players like me today. It covers some of the things people had to go through and it’s pretty cool actually. I was actually in it with my Dad, little brother and family on the ice; just a couple snippets here and there. The guy behind it [Damon Kwame Mason] featured Jaden Lindo in the first one, he was drafted by Pittsburgh a few years ago. [Mason] is now doing a part two since the first one did so well and he’s focusing on me and my draft year. We’ve been shooting some stuff the last couple years – things like me at OHL practices, me at the NHL Draft, just things that have been a part of my journey.

In the meantime, a player on my team, Elijah Roberts and I, along with the creator of this documentary [Mason], we’ve put together a couple of podcasts about it. We’ll have a guest on the show, someone who is an NHL player today who’s black or any minority and talk about the differences [we go through]. For instance, this might sound weird, but when I moved to Niagara for my first year in the OHL, it would have been my first year living with white people. There are some differences that come along with that, little things like, what temperature the house is at and small things. We just want to tell some of the funny stories about being a minority in hockey. We’re not going to get into the negatives at all. We want to focus on the positives. Little stories that make people think, ‘I didn’t even think of that, but that’s pretty cool.’ That’s just a little project for this summer. It’s not going to be anything big, we’re just doing it for fun. We’re using his movie platform because he has so many followers. It’s just a cool little thing we’re doing in our free time this summer. We felt the need to do it because you see a lot more minorities that are playing the game compared to twenty years ago and maybe even longer. Even in Toronto, you walk into some rinks and there may be only a few non-minority kids on the ice, it’s cool to see the game expanding.

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