The summer of 2018 brought about one of the proudest moments in British ice hockey history, with Liam Kirk of the Sheffield Steelers becoming the very first player to be born and trained in England to make it into the NHL.
Getting selected with the 189th pick of the draft in round seven by the Arizona Coyotes, even British ice hockey fans that don’t support the Steelers were very happy for the winger. As detailed by the BBC, in the running to his historic selection, Kirk had been playing for the Steelers for three seasons and helped Great Britain land promotion to the elite level of ice hockey.
If he can prove that he’s up to the task of playing at the NHL level, Kirk could yet join the likes of Brendan Perlini and Nathan Walker as Brits to have played on NHL ice. However, if he does make the cut, it may not be too long before he’s not the only English-born and English-trained active skater in North America’s top ice hockey league.
Now, just one year on from Kirk’s selection by the Yotes, another English skater is rumoured to be in contention for an NHL draft pick. Having recently extended his deal with the Steelers, another of Sheffield’s top prospects in Kieran Brown may yet make the trip across the pond.
Will England send the NHL two prospects in two years?
— British Ice Hockey (@BritIceHockey) February 15, 2018
Brown made his EIHL debut with the Sheffield Steelers in the 2017/18 season, going on to put together a fair showing of 19 games with one goal and three points. With limited ice time in an adult professional league, Brown showed that he was very quick-thinking, could throw his weight around, and had a keen sniper’s eye.
Even though Brown managed to play 33 EIHL games in 2018/19, his season and progress were stunted by spells in the NIHL 1 and NIHL 2 with the Blackburn Hawks, Sutton Sting, and Bradford Bulldogs. He played for the Bulldogs at U16 level and scored 45 goals and 91 points in 18 games during his last spell, before going to the Iowa Wild for a couple of years to refine his skills.
Tom Barrasso took over from the championship-winning Paul Thompson on 1 October 2018 before being replaced at the end of the season, overseeing the Steelers struggling near the foot of the table. Barrasso was very much up against it and so struggled to give the emerging Brown sufficient ice time. But he did note to the Yorkshire Post that Brown boasts skill, strong hockey IQ, and is developing the mental part of his game very well.
Barrasso’s successor, Aaron Fox, has a monstrous task ahead of him to get the Steelers back to the top end of the table, which may not be good news for the prospect Brown. He’s already closing in on signing veteran Russian winger Nikolai Lemtyugov to stack Sheffield’s forward lines and adding more bodies in the way of Brown’s potential progression.
There is the hope that despite having a turbulent domestic season, in which team struggles hindered his development, NHL teams will still notice his raw sniping skill, willingness to compete physically, and high hockey IQ as well as his success for the national team. Playing alongside EIHL alum Liam Kirk, Brown tallied two goals and seven points in five games for Great Britain U20s this season, helping them to finish third in the WJC-20 D2A.
Kirk’s setting a good example
He’s the first player born and trained in England selected in the #NHLDraft!
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) July 5, 2018
With such a late pick in the draft from a nation not known to the NHL as a developer of top talent, Liam Kirk was certainly seen as a punt from the Arizona Coyotes, who are seen as 17/1 outsiders by Betway, as of June 20th, to win the Western Conference next season – well behind 7/2 favourites Vegas. Kirk got off to a slow start but finished the 2018/19 season well. While his efforts likely won’t be enough to earn the 19-year-old a call-up to the NHL lines, he is progressing better than expected.
By the end of the 2018/19 campaign, despite going on a 14-game point streak, Kirk clocked in 26 goals and 47 points in 63 games for the Peterborough Petes in the OHL. With a full 2019/20 season ahead and a lack of an adjustment period required, it’s quite possible that Kirk will score than a point per game, potentially putting himself in contention for NHL line time in 2020//21.
While Kirk is being given a spell to adjust, Brown may not be given the same privilege. Amateur scout Max Kolu, per the New York Times, noted that Kirk was raw but showed skill, a good feel for the puck, and skated well. Brown certainly ticks some of these boxes, but a lack of action at the top level in Britain may hold him back when NHL franchises look to make their picks.
The NHL Draft Prospect Rankings list doesn’t include Kieran Brown in the top 250, but given that many franchises seek players who show the skill that they can mould, there’s a fair chance that an NHL franchise will consider drafting Brown. Then again, after a poor season with a struggling club, teams may be put off during the 2019 NHL Draft; we shall have to wait and see.