The 2020/21 season of ice hockey isn’t underway yet in many leagues around the world. The EIHL may not start until next year, and the same goes for the big-money contest across the Atlantic. So, this has given ample time to check-in on how the skaters hailing from Great Britain are developing in the NHL.
It’s the toughest ice hockey league in the world to break into, but there are three players of British origin positioned to do precisely that. The nation has one skater making his way through the development system, another poised in the AHL for another NHL shot, and another looking for a new team. The NHL is set to get underway in 2021, with a revamped landscape of sports set to greet the British players if they can breakthrough.
Getting game time in Sweden
With the NHL opting to start-up again in January, several prospects vying for first-team ice time are using the late autumn and early winter to get some reps with men’s teams. For Liam Kirk, the former Sheffield Steeler, the best move proved to be switching Canada for Sweden. He’s already been back in Europe for over a month, playing for Hanhals IF in the third-tier, scoring five points in his first five games.
Kirk looks to have settled-in quickly for the Kungsbacka-based club, having impressed over the last couple of seasons in the major juniors. In his first season for the Peterborough Petes, the Maltby-born forward notably struggled early-on. However, Kirk picked up before the end of the season, scoring 47 points in 63 games, building into an even better campaign in the OHL last season, scoring 21 goals and 50 points in 47 matches.
Looking to break back out of the AHL
Taken in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Nathan Walker may be hailed as a breakthrough Australian, but being born in Cardiff, British hockey fans can still hail him as one of their own. His chance in the NHL finally came in the 2017/18 season for the Washington Capitals, with Walker scoring on his debut. Since then, he’s added a few more NHL games and points for the Capitals, Edmonton Oilers, and St. Louis Blues.
In the 2019 free agency, Walker signed on with the Blues, playing five games to score two points in the NHL lines. Notably, he’s been a top performer for the team’s AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. In 46 games last season, the Welsh-born left winger scored 19 goals and 13 assists. With that team now gone, he’ll be looking to impress in the Springfield Thunderbirds lines, hoping to get another shot in the NHL.
In search of a team through a lengthy free agency
Born in Guildford, developed in Canada since 2007, Brendan Perlini was snapped-up 12th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The highly-touted English forward was eventually given a chance in the NHL by the team that drafted him, the ever-rebuilding Arizona Coyotes, and played over 150 games for the perpetual bottom-dwellers, until being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018.
Last season, Perlini shifted from the Blackhawks to the Detroit Red Wings, deciding that he wasn’t being given enough ice time in Chicago. For the Red Wings, he put up four points in 39 games, joining a stacked free agency at the end of the season with the cap crunch bearing down. There’s still a long way to go in the offseason, but it seems likely that a team will offer a deal to the physical winger with an eye for goal.
A new NHL landscape upping the pressure
Starting in January at the earliest, there’s a chance that the NHL regular season will be shortened to try to align the 2021/22 with previous campaigns. So, with less ice time available all around, Kirk, Walker, and Perlini will need to be in prime condition to make the most of any opportunity given to them, with all three looking to make an impression.
There’ll be a lot more riding on each game for fans of the sport in the United States, too, with even more of the country establishing a new form of sports interaction. With 19 states already regulating the space, online and land sports betting in the US is becoming much more widespread. With the deep markets on offer, from game-winners to point scorers, the NHL presents itself as one of the best sports to bet on for the new audience. Fans can take advantage of a wide variety of bonuses, including free bets and sign-up offers, to take part in this growing area
Britain’s representatives all crave NHL ice time, but each of them has to go all-in to try to break into teams in the season of increased pressure. They all have a shot, with Kirk building his skill in the men’s game, Walker positioned as a top AHL call-up, and Perlini a proven contributor at the highest level but just needing a contract.
With the potential of less ice time and more invested interest than ever in the US, the heat is on for Kirk, Walker, and Perlini to impress in 2020/21.