Yannetti's scouting reports, development updates on newly signed Akil Thomas - LA Kings Insider

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The LA Kings signed forward Akil Thomas to a three-year, entry-level contract last weekend, extending the betrothal between the playmaking center and a team whose returns for a player claimed in the second round appear to be trending well.

Projected as a late-first round, early-second round draft pick, Thomas, ranked 15th in NHL Central Scouting’s final 2018 rankings, was selected 51st overall by Los Angeles last July. His play this season has backed up the rosier projections. As a fast, skilled center on the OHL’s highest scoring team, Thomas, who turned 19 on January 2, tied for sixth in the league with 102 points, 39 of which came on the power play.

And while Thomas has been known for his ability to sling the puck around the offensive zone, he also turned heads with a 38-goal season that might not forecast the type of player that he will be in the professional game but surely established him as one of the OHL’s most exciting young players and a player to focus on during upcoming Hockey Canada world junior camps.

Thomas isn’t a great threat to earn a spot on the Kings in advance of his 19-year-old season, so he’ll head back to the Ontario Hockey League and will continue to develop his professional habits and build his strength. But he’ll be a candidate who’ll fight to raise his standing among the pecking order of center prospects including Gabriel Vilardi and Rasmus Kupari, two players who like Thomas are equipped to play both down the middle of the ice and at wing.

For more on the story of his 2018-19 season and how he looks on the precipice of Niagara’s playoff run – the Ice Dogs open their J. Robertson Ross Cup campaign tonight at home against North Bay – I spoke with LA Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti.

Mark Yannetti, on how Akil Thomas was challenged this year, and how he responded:
He was challenged to adopt more of a pro mentality – and he’s taken steps. He needs to take his off-ice training more seriously, he needs to be more consistent both in his off-ice training and on the ice. I find that they’re both linked. The more of a pro mentality that you have, the more consistent you usually are. They’re very linked. It’s not uncommon, either. It’s not something we haven’t dealt with with 20 guys. He’s 17-year-old kid. There’s very few Kyle Cliffords who have a pro mentality when they’re 15. It took Drew a couple years. Once Drew developed his [regimen], jeez, he became the best player in the world. That was his biggest challenge. He needs to be more consistent and more competitive during the season, and I think he’s responded well to it. Again, it hasn’t been perfect, but since you can see by his year, it’s been very good.

Yannetti, on Thomas’ role in Niagara’s strong offense, and his chemistry with Dallas’ Jason Robertson:
He’s the facilitator, he’s a playmaker. It was nice to see him get as many goals as he got this year – that was certainly good. I wouldn’t say ‘surprising,’ but maybe unexpected. But on the power play, he’s a set-up guy. He makes a lot of cross-ice passes, a lot of seam passes to get you opportunities. When he played with [2019 draft prospect Philip] Tomasino, he helped [Tomasino] out quite a bit. He’s the one who distributes the puck. For the most part he’s the one who makes those plays for offense, the set-up type plays. That’s been the majority of his role, but he’s certainly rounded out his goal scoring game and I’d still like to see him go another step, but he’s taken a little bit more of an individual role in terms of not passing up his shot as much as he did in the past.

Yannetti, on whether Thomas projects as a center in the pro game, and his play without the puck:
Yeah, I think he profiles as a center. It’s nice that he can play both. He certainly has all the attributes to become a successful wing as well as a center, and the more positions you can play, the better off you are. He needs to play a little bit better away from the puck, he needs to be a little more diligent. He’s definitely got to be stronger. He’s not close as strong enough to be a center in the NHL right now, not even close. But again, the greatest fallacy in the world is people who go back to junior hockey to work on their deficiencies, especially if they’re defensive. It’s just a flat-out lie. Junior teams don’t want these guys coming back playing a Selke game. They want these guys coming back putting a hundred points on the board. All the way back to Brayden Schenn. Brayden Schenn never worked on his defense until he got to the pros. You’d like to see him improve his defense, and he’s improved it a little, but until he gets to the pro side, that’ll always be a secondary thing. His responsibility is to put points on the board and to help the team win by scoring, and that’s their style as well, which is nice because you don’t often get to work on those areas of your game in that kind of an up-tempo and offensive [environment]. With the way the guys are playing the game today, it’s really good. It’s good that he’s in that kind of situation and that kind of environment.

Yannetti, on how Thomas fares in puck battles, and finding players who can both skate and compete:
I don’t know if you can win in the NHL without winning puck battles. I know what the impetus is. I know what everyone says – ‘what you need to win,’ ‘you need to do this,’ ‘everybody’s speed oriented,’ ‘everybody’s this-oriented.’ Quite frankly, you need the puck, and you need to win battles and you need to win a lot more battles than the other team. You need to get the puck back when you don’t have it, so I would say any player we draft, it’s of tantamount importance that he can win puck battles. Akil’s stick is outstanding. He’s got an elite stick – not just offensively. Guys that have an elite offensive stick usually have an elite defensive stick. The question is whether they employ it that way or not. It’s very hard to have a one-way stick, you know what I mean? Think about it. And again, it’s not impossible, but if you have a good stick one way, offensively, there’s no reason you don’t have a good stick defensively. It’s mindset or willingness to compete or ability to compete. In Akil’s case, at the junior level, he’s very good at it. He gets sticks onto pucks, he’s quick, he’s able to do that very well. His strength at the junior level is good, but at the next level it needs to be a lot better. Obviously, strength will come into play more during some of those stick battles than it has to this point in his career.

Adam Pantozzi/NHLI

— Lead photo via Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Rules for Blog Commenting
  • - No profanity, slurs or other offensive language. Replacing letters with symbols does not turn expletives into non-expletives.
  • - Personal attacks against other blog commenters, and/or blatant attempts to antagonize other commenters, are not tolerated. Respectful disagreement is encouraged. Posts that continually express the same singular opinion will be deleted.
  • - Comments that incite political, religious or similar debates will be deleted.
  • - Please do not discuss, or post links to, websites that illegally stream NHL games.
  • - Posting under multiple user names is not allowed. Do not type in all caps. All violations are subject to comment deletion and/or banning of commenters, per the discretion of the blog administrator.
Adrian Kempe

#9 | 6′ 2″ | 195 lb | Age: 21

Born: September 13, 1996
Birthplace: Kramfors, SWE
Position: LW
Handedness: Left

Bio

Kempe was selected by the Kings in the first round (29th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft.
VIEW ADRIAN KEMPE POSTS

Alex Iafallo

#19 | 6′ | 185 lb | Age: 23

Born: December 21, 1993
Birthplace: Eden, NY, USA
Position: C
Handedness: Left

Bio

Iafallo was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on April 18, 2017.
VIEW ALEX IAFALLO POSTS

Anze Kopitar

#11 | 6′ 3″ | 224 lb | Age: 29

Born: August 24, 1987
Birthplace: Jesenice, SVN
Position: C
Handedness: Left

Bio

As the 11th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Kopitar became the first Slovenian to play in the NHL. Kopitar has spent his entire NHL career with the Kings, and following the 2015–16 season, was named the Kings’ captain. Noted for both his offensive and defensive play, Kopitar was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL in 2016.

VIEW ANZE KOPITAR POSTS
Drew Doughty

#8 | 6′ 1″ | 195 lb | Age: 26

Born: December 8, 1989
Birthplace: London, ON, CAN
Position: D
Handedness: Right

Bio

Bio: Doughty is a Canadian defenceman who was selected second overall by the Kings in the 2008 Draft. Doughty made his NHL debut in 2008 as an 18-year-old and was named to the All-Rookie Team. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings, a two-time Olympic gold medallist with the Canadian national team, and a Norris Trophy finalist.

VIEW DREW DOUGHTY POSTS
Jeff Carter

#77 | 6′ 4″ | 215 lb | Age: 31

Born: January 1, 1985
Birthplace: London, ON, CAN
Position: C
Handedness: Right

Bio

Carter began his hockey career playing in the Ontario Hockey League in Canada before joining the AHL and playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. He was then traded to the Colombus Blue jackets before joining the LA Kings in 2012, where he has since won two Stanley Cups with the Kings.

VIEW JEFF CARTER POSTS
Jonathan Quick

#32 | 6′ 1″ | 218 lb | Age: 30

Born: January 21, 1986
Birthplace: Milford, CT, USA
Position: G
Handedness: Left

Bio

Bio: Quick is the current goaltender for the LA Kings and was selected by Los Angeles at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Previously, Quick was a silver medalist with USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He’s won two Stanley Cup championships with the Kings, along with being the most recent goaltender to be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

VIEW JONATHAN QUICK POSTS