Almost all of Akil Thomas’ babysitters wore skates. And there are hockey players who are known as rink rats. In the case of Thomas, he was literally raised in an arena. His father Khalil, himself a professional hockey player, would bring young Akil with him to the rink each day.
“I grew up taking naps in the dressing room while they practiced,” Akil recalled. “I’d wake up and they’d be going back on the ice.”
With an ever-growing list of elite prospects currently populating their development system, members of the Kings management team must be pinching themselves to ensure they aren’t dreaming. LA’s depth of emerging talent is so rich, it has the NHL Hockey betting lines that the Kings, Stanley Cup Champions in 2012 and 2014, will soon be rising up among the league’s contending franchises.
Like Father, Like Son
Thomas, born in 2000 and selected 51st overall by the Kings in the 2018 NHL Draft, recalls his earliest memories being of his father’s minor pro hockey career with the Florida Seals and Jacksonville Barracuda of the Southern Pro League.
“I just loved watching my dad,” he shared. “I watched him three times a week. I’d go to every game and watch him. I’d go to every practice and watch him.”
Over a 12-year career, Kahlil Thomas suited up for 13 teams in eight leagues across three countries. He performed mostly in the lower rungs of pro hockey, what some hockey people refer to as the Jules Verne Leagues, because they are 20,000 leagues below the level of the NHL.
Only 11 of Khalil’s 828 pro games were played as high as the AHL. It was an odyssey through places such as Columbus, Ga., Flint, Mich., Pensacola, Fla. and even Weiden, Germany. And young Akil happily went along for the ride.
“I’d go on the ice a lot as a kid,” he noted. “It’s just always been part of my life.”
It was Thomas who netted the Golden Goal at the 2020 World Junior Championship. Trailing Russia 3-1 in the third period of the gold-medal game, Canada tallied three markers in the final frame, with Thomas potting the goal that gave the Canadians their 4-3 victory.
His childhood was filled with memories of Canadian WJC triumphs. Now, he’s created one of his own and certainly a memory he will treasure forever.
“I grew up in Florida, playing hockey, but I’d come every Christmas to visit my family in Toronto and we’d watch the World Juniors,” Thomas told Featurd.io. “I dreamed of being in that situation. It meant the world to me.”
Hunter Was Suitably Impressed
Dale Hunter of the OHL’s London Knights, who coached that Canadian championship group, was known for his work ethic, determination and unrelenting competitiveness during two decades as an NHL player. He held Thomas in high regard.
“He’s just got the skill and the will,” Hunter said. “When you put those two together, you have a good player.”
Hunter admired the fact that although Thomas was capable of being a finisher, he was just as enthusiastic about doing whatever it took, filling whatever role was asked of him in order to contribute to the cause of helping the team win.
“He’ll sacrifice,” Hunter said. “The game is blocking shots and the puck hurts. He’s willing to do that.”
That’s exactly how Thomas wants to be viewed as a hockey player.
“I think I can bring heart,” Thomas said. “I’m versatile. I can take faceoffs. I can play center. I can play wing. I can be a power forward. I can be a playmaker.
“I just want to be a guy that the team can depend on and play wherever the coach needs.”
From Hunter’s point of view, Thomas is like a Swiss Army Knife on skates. He can be slotted into any role and he’s quite capable of filling it admirably.
“He’s an all-around player,” Hunter said. “When a coach has an all-around player, you love it. You can play him on the power play, PK, even strength and against top lines. It’s one of those players a coach really leans on.”