Of the 104 draft eligible players who attended the 2018 NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, New York, you could argue that none came with more interest as a story more than a player than England’s Liam Kirk.
Kirk, who plays for the Sheffield Steelers, is looking to become the first UK born and trained player ever drafted into the NHL, with hopes of making it all he way.
While the combine does little to really change the draft stock of early picks like Rasmus Dahlin, a good showing could be the difference between being drafted or not by a player like Liam Kirk.
Kirk broke the top 25 in a few categories at the combine, including pull ups, standing long jump, bench press, force plate and the functional movement screen.
At 18-years-old, Kirk has been playing for the Steelers since the 16/17 Elite Ice Hockey League season, and while he failed to pick up a point in his first season which saw him ice for 19 league games and one Champions Hockey League game, he spent a large amount of time with the Sheffield Steeldogs in a league below the UKs top league. While crafting his talent with the Steeldogs, he put up 45 points in 38 games, second most on the team and the most by an under 20s player in the league that year.
This past season he really started making his impact in the UKs top flight, beating the previous scoring record for an Under 18 player in the EIHL, finishing up the year with 16 points in 52 games.
Coming into the 2018/19 season, even before the draft has taken place, the Steelers are preparing for life without the 18-year-old, who told reporters at the combine he plans on playing in the CHL next season.
It’s reported that around 10 NHL teams interviewed Kirk at the combine, with the Boston Bruins, Arizona Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilersreportedly among that group of teams who’ve taken a further interest in Kirk.
“It’s pretty special being the first British-born and trained guy here and I’m hoping to be the first to be drafted too,” Kirk told reporters.
“I never really thought this would happen, to be honest, and I always believed I could play in the NHL. But as a kid from Britain, you don’t expect this. It’s been nice to be out here and show what I can do.”
There have been Brits taken in the draft previously, Scotland’s Tony Hand was the final selection in the 1986 Draft by the Edmonton Oilers but he only played 3 games for the Victoria Cougars in the WHL before returning to the UK where he is still to this today the best player to have played in the UK. Another player from Scotland in Colin Shields was selected 195th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000 after he’d played in junior hockey in North America the mid 1990s.
Kirk will likely be a late round pick, looking at anywhere after the fifth round realistically, but it’s likely he’ll move to North America to play his hockey next season, something the Steelers are prepared for.
While Kirk has been setting records in the EIHL, he’s also had a great year on the international stage. At the Division 2A World Juniors in December, Kirk helped Great Britain to a Bronze Medal while also posting 7 goals and 7 assists, leading the tournament in both categories and points overall, as well as being named the best forward.
In early April, Kirk flew out to Estonia with the Under 18 side and helped them to a Gold Medal and promotion to Division 1B, while later in the month he was part of history suiting up for the Senior side.
He saw limited playing time for the senior team at the Division 1A World Championships in Hungary, he was part of a team that shocked the group, winning a gold medal that saw the Brits move back to the Top Division for 2019 for the first time since the early 1990s.
Kirk now has to wait until June 22-23 to see what team, if any will call his name when the draft gets underway in Dallas, Texas.
Oliver Hampson – @OliverJHampson
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