Hang around long enough and you just might make history. That’s the story of Maltby’s Liam Kirk who was selected 189th overall by the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes in the seventh and final round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft this past June. With his selection, Kirk became the only born, raised and trained player from England to be drafted by an NHL team.
Kirk impressed NHL scouts with one of the highest point totals for a teenage player in the EIHL ever in 2017-18, putting up nine goals and 16 points in 52 games with the Sheffield Steelers. This season Kirk, who grew up a huge Steelers fan and credits the team for igniting his passion for the sport, elected to take his game to Canada in the hopes of one day cracking the Coyotes’ roster. The 19-year-old has impressed in his first stint abroad, putting up 25 goals and 46 points in 60 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Peterborough Petes.
It’s a long way from home for the lad from Maltby, but he’s had a remarkable campaign in 2018-19. Not only is Kirk part of a strong Petes team that has good betting odds to contend for the championship, but he also tasted victory by leading Great Britain to a bronze medal at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Division IIA Championships in January. Kirk led the entire tournament in scoring with five goals and 14 points in five games, earning him “Best Forward” honors.
With another strong season for the Petes in 2019-20, there’s reason to believe that Kirk could one day work his way up the Coyotes’ organizational depth chart and find himself in the NHL. It’s something that wasn’t ever on Kirk’s mind, until getting drafted into the NHL. For him, it was a dream come true to merely play for the Steelers.
“My parents went to watch the Sheffield Steelers when I was just a baby and my older brother, he was there as well, so he decided he wanted to play hockey,” Kirk told NHL.com this past summer. “And as you do with older siblings, I just kind of copied him and it went from there.”
“Those first few years I started playing hockey I just kind of had the dream to play for the Sheffield Steelers, but as you get older you realize how big the hockey world is.”
So, just how big is that world? In Canada alone there are well over 300 junior aged teams spread across dozens of leagues. Kirk just happens to play in the highest league for his age group, in the OHL division of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), a league with 60 teams of the very best 16-20-year-old players in the world.
“The adjustments have been a little difficult,” said Kirk in an interview with the New York Times earlier this season. “Obviously, moving to a new country, away from your family and stuff like that. It’s the best junior league in the world, still got to adjust to that.”
If Kirk was struggling to make adjustments early on though, that’s all ancient history. The shifty winger potted three goals for the Petes in a big 6-5 win over the North Bay Battalion just last week. And he continues to rocket up the team’s scoring chart, sitting just seven points behind leader Nick Robertson, an NHL Draft eligible centre from nearby Michigan. Should Kirk be able to hold his horses, while keeping his torrid pace and he’ll be counted on to be a top player for the Petes in 2019-20.
Despite all the success Kirk has had thus far in his career, the NHL still seems like a long shot. Rarely do 7th round selections get a sniff at the NHL, let alone 7th round selections from countries with no history of producing NHL hockey players. Still, everything that Kirk has done in the past two seasons cannot be ignored and if there’s anyone who can beat the odds, it’s a young man who has done it his entire life. If nothing else, Kirk is hopeful that his journey can help raise awareness of the sport in Britain and inspire other young kids to follow their NHL dreams.
“I hope that I’m not the last, and a few other people do come and do it,” he said to the New York Times. “British hockey is actually a real thing; it sounds funny, but hopefully I’m not the only one who does it.”