We’ve long said that Akil Thomas is one of the most fascinating prospects in the entire Kings organization. He certainly has added to his aura this week, with a natural hat-trick on Sunday in the final minutes of regulation, followed by a goal in the shootout, and then he’s gone on to garner plenty of attention for playing on the same line as Devante Smith-Pelly and Quinton Byfield.
Here are some thoughts from Thomas on the line, challenges he’s faced this season, his relationship with coach Wroblewski, and much more…
Thomas on the challenges of being used all over the lineup and getting his legs under him in his first professional season
Not gonna lie, it has been a challenge. I played the last few years at center and my tendencies are, I go on the ice, if it’s a face off, I’m dialed in right from the face-off and I know what I have to do right from the face-off. As a wing, your whole perception of the game changes. You have to think the game way differently. You have way different responsibilities. Sometimes that maybe caused me to make a little mental mistake here and there just because I’m going from wing to center mid-game. It is a challenge for sure, but just talking with Wrobo, I want to be that guy where he can use me wherever – left wing, right wing, I’m just waiting to play goalie at this point. It’s been fun. I really want to be that guy that Wrobo can use in any situation, and I’ve told him that. It’s definitely a challenge, but I definitely love it.
On the relationship he has been able to form with head coach Wroblewski
It’s a good mix between us. He’s a really good guy away from the rink. We’ve had a lot of conversations about non-hockey stuff. It’s always a good feeling when you can talk to your coach and he actually has a personality and is actually a good person. I really like him; really like him as a coach, as well. We see the game the same way. I remember when I first met him, the practices were high tempo, upbeat and they’re fun. We would play a bunch of competitive little game stuff. That’s what really gets me going, competitive stuff in practice. That keeps me enjoying the game and that competitive nature, that’s where I thrive. I go to the rink and I’m happy to go practice and to go compete against my teammates. Whereas, maybe in the past, I’m tired or I’m going to the rink and hoping I can come home sooner than later to rest. I think that stuff can be a good thing. I’m going to the rink really excited these days, it’s definitely helping me develop my game.
On how his first year in the AHL is going, and things he has learned along the way
It definitely has not been easy, especially the condensed schedule. There’s so many games, which is a good and bad thing because you can forget about a couple bad games or whatever. It’s been tough. The hockey is obviously different. Points do not come easy at all. You can’t just show up to a rink and expect to get a couple points like maybe I did in junior. You really have to earn everything in this league. It matches exactly with what guys I talked to before coming into the season said about it. It’s been good for me, though. It’s teaching me a lot. Every game I try to soak in as much as I can. We’re a young team, so it’s cool to go through a couple struggles with some young guys and, collectively as a group, learn and get better. We’re getting better every game. We have a coach who believes in us, is patient with us, and pushes us to be better. Our record isn’t the best, but it’s trending in the right direction. Everyone is in good spirits. I’m really enjoying my time right now.
On playing with Quinton Byfield and the camaraderie they have built together
The camaraderie on our team is probably the most I’ve ever been with, and it’s only been not even half of a regular season. I go to the rink and I’m excited to see everyone, shoot the crap with everyone. It’s been really fun. QB’s a really funny guy. We have a bunch of funny guys on our team. We all just get along really well. There are no locker room cancers here or anything like that. It’s a really tight room. It’s jokes every day. Even when we’re losing, we still find a way to keep it light and keep it happy in the locker room.
History being made tonight. Not since the Black Aces have we seen an all-Black line in pro hockey. Herb Carnegie, Ozzie Carnegie & and Manny McIntyre are shining down on @SmithPelly23, @Byfield55 & @AkilThomas tonight. The line already has a goal in the 1st. #History #SoulOnIce pic.twitter.com/ChW5IjfICr
— Soul On Ice The Podcast (@SOIThePodcast) March 21, 2021
On playing on a line with Byfield and DSP, the first all-black professional line since the 1941 Black Aces
The schedule and the lineup got posted in our little group in the morning. As soon as I saw it, I texted my dad and [Kwame Mason, co-host of ‘Soul On Ice’ podcast with Akil], of course. The accomplishment was unreal, it was a crazy game. I did not expect that to happen, to get my first hat trick. To get the win is the best feeling because the game felt like it was out of reach for quite some time. It was just an unbelievable game, it was really good feeling to walk out of that rink with a win.
On his excitement to be a part of that line, and the significance
It was really, really cool to be part of the line. A lot of platforms were posting about it, so it was out there. To be a part of history and a part of barriers, it was really cool. I was honored to be a part of it. You saw how many people were posting about it and endorsed it. So it was really cool, I had a lot of fun. It was pretty funny, before the game we were going out there and we were just so happy to be on a line together. Really special feeling there. … We have four black guys on our team actually, so it didn’t feel crazy that we were all put on a line together. That was the line. For me, it’s cool so young black kids who play hockey can see that and maybe get inspired by it. Maybe we can inspire more black kids to feel like they have a place in the game. That’s the really cool part for me. It was cool to play with [Byfield] and [Smith-Pelly]. We’re all teammates. It doesn’t really matter what color we are, it’s just cool that we have an opportunity to inspire other people and hopefully grow the game a little bit at the same time.
On if his dad told him that he played with other black players when Akil was a kid
Right away he sent me a text. He was on a team once and they started five black players – two defensemen and three forwards that were all back on the team. They all started one night, so my dad was telling me about that. It was pretty cool. I hope one of these days you can see that happen too.
On the importance of finding a way to win Sunday after letting the game slip away on Saturday
The night before was super disappointing, no one knew what happened. Couple minutes went by and we were losing, it was crazy. It was a lesson learned by both teams there this weekend to never give up. We both came up behind each other in one game. We’ve been playing a lot better, and we disappointed ourselves the first game. The vibe going into the third period, everyone was light. We weren’t really shrugging our heads or anything, we’re all like, ‘lLt’s do this, we can do this.’ That’s something you get from the coach, as well. When he’s still drawing up plays late in the game, you have that vibe, ‘We can still do this.’ That’s why we just put pucks on net there, to score on a couple. That was pretty cool, definitely something that I won’t forget.
On the confidence level of the team today versus two weeks ago
It’s night and day. We’re going into games now expecting to win. When we are on that slide there, we were just, not waiting to lose, but it just felt like we’re off a couple goals and we’d end up turning a puck over and them scoring or something like that. It felt like we were just gonna end up chasing the game somehow. Right now, everyone’s on the same page, we’re all playing the right way. We’re really buying into what Wrobo is saying, it’s definitely paying off. Everyone’s playing well, and everyone stepped up a little bit and it made a big difference with the whole team.
On if he noticed a moment where things were starting to click for this team
When we were on that slide there, I thought we were playing well in a lot of games, we just happened to lose them because we weren’t scoring. You need a coach who believes in you and who recognizes when you guys are doing well. Everyone appreciated that from Wrobo. We were playing pretty good in some games, just happened to lose. Maybe that’s from experience and stuff like that, but that’s just lessons we learned. I think Wrobo was right, it’s all starting to come together now. Everyone’s stepping up just a little bit and it’s making a huge difference with the whole entire team. It’s been a long time coming, we’re starting to figure out now. Hopefully we can ride it. It’s good when the coach believes in you when you lose or you win. It’s been fun.
More with Thomas from his appearance on Kings Of The Podcast can be found at the link below.
Kings Of the Podcast: Ep. Q5 with Akil Thomas, LA Kings Prospect
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