Liam Kirk became the first English-born and trained player to sign an NHL contract, the Coyotes announced Wednesday.
The entry-level deal is for three years.
The announcement comes two months after Kirk helped Great Britain to its first top division regulation victory in a World Championship tournament since 1962.
"It's extremely exciting," Kirk said. "It's a blessing. This is something I've always dreamed of. I've worked really hard for this, I've put a lot of time and effort into it, and I've made a lot of sacrifices along the way. I've had great coaches and amazing support from my family. I'm just extremely excited and ready to get to work."
General Manager Bill Armstrong is convinced of Kirk's potential.
"This kid's got a tremendous amount of passion," Armstrong said. "He yearns to be over here training and being in an NHL environment. He hasn't had that. I've got to give the kid all the kudos in the world because there he is in a small apartment somewhere in London, and he goes to the World Championship and lights it up and earns himself an NHL contract.
"He fought for that contract. We weren't giving it to him easily. He earned every single dime of that contract."
Kirk, 21, was drafted by the Coyotes in 2018 in the seventh round (No. 189), as the first English-born and -trained player to be drafted by an NHL team.
"When I got drafted, there were still a lot of unknowns," Kirk said. "Especially being from England, you're not really too sure how everything works. It was just a lot of excitement. As soon as I got drafted, it just lit another fire inside of me that made me want to (earn) a contract. There's been ups and downs, with COVID and everything, some setbacks and adversity, so that contract getting signed, for me personally, feels like a greater achievement."
The Maltby, England, native was introduced to the game through his parents' interest in the Sheffield Steelers, the local professional hockey team in the EIHL, the United Kingdom's top league.
"In Sheffield, there are two really big football (soccer) teams, but the Steelers are pretty big too," Kirk said. "When the Steelers started out, my parents went to watch. My older brother Johnathan started playing, then I started playing, and we just kind of went from there really. Hockey's been a part of my life since I can remember."
Hockey is not the most popular sport in the U.K. However, many now consider it the most popular indoor sport in the country.
"It's definitely growing," Kirk said. "I think the fan base is growing, it's getting more media attention, which is what we like to see because it helps the sport grow and brings in players from younger generations. Everyone knows it's not the most common sport in England; a lot of people don't come to England to play ice hockey. But I think it's definitely grown over the past few years. I think that comes off the success of the national team and players having success in other countries as well."
Regarding the national team, Kirk scored two goals in the aforementioned World Championship win over Belarus on May 26. He finished as the tournament's co-leader in scoring with seven goals. He totaled nine points in seven games and was named to the World Championship Media All-Star team.
"To play for your country is amazing, it's one of the greatest honors," Kirk said. I wanted to go and have fun and just play the right way. I didn't really focus on trying to get points, get goals. I knew it was going to be a battle for us when you play at that level. Obviously, I did want to contribute, but that wasn't my main focus."
Kirk was first selected to represent Great Britain in the World Championship in 2018, when Great Britain still was competing in the tournament's Division I A level, the second tier. Kirk and the Brits won the gold medal, and were promoted to the top-tier in 2019, marking the first time in 26 years Great Britain competed at the level in an international tournament.
"I wanted to be a part of the team moving forward," Kirk said. "To try to continue to make history for us as a hockey nation. What we've achieved is really special, and the group we have is really special. A lot of the credit goes to the guys who have been there before me for years, even in the lower divisions. I joined at the perfect time as we start to rise up. It's something special, and hopefully we can continue to do that."
Kirk last played a full season in 2019-20, when he scored 21 goals and 50 points in 47 regular-season games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL). His final junior season in 2020-21 was cancelled due to COVID-19. Kirk prepared for the 2021 World Championship by playing short stints in Sweden and for his hometown Steelers.
Kirk is currently waiting for his visa to be processed, before traveling to Arizona for training camp.
"I'm looking to head out and get over there before training before camp starts," Kirk said. "I want to go, work hard and just be as consistent as I can, and try to do things the right way on and off the ice. At the end of the day, I want to be an NHL player. The journey is probably going to be long. It was a long journey to be a signed prospect after getting drafted. I'm not in a rush to go and make the team or anything, but that's the end goal."
As for where he hopes to play this coming season, Kirk said, "It's what Bill and the player development staff thinks will be best for me. Where I go will be decided after camp. I'm just really excited to get going, get working, get to Arizona. It's been a long time coming."