Liam Kirk 1st born-and-trained Brit selected in NHL draft
DALLAS (AP) — Liam Kirk was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, about 4,600 miles away from Dallas, on Saturday when he became the first player born and trained in England to be selected in the NHL draft.
Early in the seventh and final round of the draft, the Arizona Coyotes took the 18-year-old Kirk with the 189th overall pick .
“To finally see my name on the board was just incredible,” Kirk said by phone from England. “And to get a call from the GM was even better, just to know that’s the place I’m going. And that’s what I’m aiming to be, and to play my NHL career.”
The 6-foot, 161-pound Kirk played this season for Sheffield Steelers in the Elite Ice Hockey League, the highest level of competition in the United Kingdom, and for a team where the average age is 28. He had nine goals and seven assists in 52 games for the Steelers in his second season with the team.
Even though cricket and soccer are much more popular sports in England, Kirk already was dreaming about playing for Sheffield when he was only about 6 years old and going to Steelers games with his parents and older brother. He started to learn about the NHL within a couple of years.
Tim Bernhardt, Arizona’s director of amateur scouting, said NHL Central Scouting identified Kirk. The Coyotes then sent one of their scouts in Europe to see him, and more followed.
“He’s a thin kid, needs a lot of physical development, but they said he’s got a good idea of the game, and his natural skills were very good,” Bernhardt said.
Born in Rotherham, Kirk this year became the first player born and trained in England to attend the NHL’s pre-draft scouting combine in Buffalo. Now he is the first to be drafted, and he wants to be the first to play in the NHL.
“I just want to prove myself, and prove I can play,” said Kirk, who will soon move to North America to start playing here.
The Coyotes were among the teams that met with Kirk at the combine, and he knew there was a chance that they would take him. But he didn’t know for sure while watching the draft with his family.
His name finally got called Saturday night in England, six hours ahead of Dallas time, where it was early afternoon when he got picked.
“He wants to be here. He’s coming over here to play now,” Bernhardt said. “He’s played in the men’s league. It’s hard for him to find a spot to play because he’s too good for the juniors. ... You’re not going to find that kind of skill in the seventh round, so let’s go for it and see where we can get it to.”
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