The Arizona Coyotes may be able to count on an increased British fanbase when the new NHL season faces off in October.
They picked Liam Kirk in the recent draft – the first player born and trained in England to be selected in the NHL draft.
The 18-year-old left winger was their seventh round pick and 189th overall. The Coyotes struggled last season and though this signing isn’t likely to have much impact on the NHL betting tips for the new season, it’s certainly captured interest back in Britain.
Kirk is the first British-born and trained player to be drafted since Colin Shields back in 2000. Shields, who played for Belfast Giants amongst others in the EIHL, was a sixth round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Maltby-born forward is hoping to become the first British born and trained player to play in the NHL. He is likely to play junior hockey in the CHL next season, having signed for Peterborough Pete’s, who are being coached by former Sheffield and Newcastle boss Rob Wilson.
Canadian Wilson represented Great Britain during his playing days and was named in the British ice hockey hall of fame in 2011.
A former team-mate of Wilson, British ice hockey legend Tony Hand, was the first British born and trained player ever to be drafted by an NHL team back in 1986. He was a 12th round pick by Edmonton Oilers, but he ended up turning down a contract to play junior hockey and returned home, forging a remarkably prolific career.
So up to now, just three British born and trained players have been selected in the NHL draft – and it is up to Kirk to be the first one of those to actually play in the NHL.
But there have been 52 British players to have played in the NHL previously, though none of them were trained at home.
Ken Thompson (Oakengates) and Joe Hall (Staffordshire) played for Montreal Wanderers and Montreal Canadiens in the first season of the NHL back in 1917.
More recently, Stockport-born Steve Thomas made 1,235 regular season appearances in The Show, playing for Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Detroit Red Wings.
He holds the record for most appearances by a Briton in the NHL, closely followed by Owen Nolan, who played 1200 times. The Belfast-born winger played for Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Phoenix Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks.
Charlie Gardiner, a goalie with the Chicago Blackhawks, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, having played 316 times between 1927 and 1934.
There is only one currently active Briton in the NHL, and that is left winger Brendan Perlini, who like Kirk, is also with Arizona Coyotes.
Goalie Daniel Taylor, born in Plymouth, played three times for LA Kings back in 2007 and is currently playing in the KHL.
But it is Kirk who carries the hopes of British ice hockey now – and what a story it would be.