Coyotes make history, take Kirk from England at NHL Draft
Forward becomes first player born, trained in country to be selectedby Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer
DALLAS -- Liam Kirk became the first player born and trained in England to be chosen in the NHL Draft when the Arizona Coyotes selected him in the seventh round (No. 189) of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on Saturday.
"I don't have any words for it," Kirk, a forward, told NHL.com from his England home via telephone. "I'm just very excited and really emotional. It's been a long day, but I've been waiting for it. We've been watching on a livestream as every pick is made, and I was getting a little more nervous every time.
"Then finally, I got the message saying it's happened, and my phone has been blowing up nonstop. It's amazing."
[RELATED: Complete 2018 NHL Draft coverage]
Kirk, No. 65 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) for Sheffield of the Elite Ice Hockey League this season, the most by an under-18 player in EIHL history.
The Coyotes were the first of 10 NHL teams to interview Kirk at the NHL Scouting Combine.
Kirk (6-feet, 160 pounds), 18, said he will attend Coyotes development camp, which starts Monday. He said he's looking forward to it, especially with the lack of ice time available at home.
"I've been working out since I got back from the combine and have been trying to find ice, but not much has been available," Kirk said. "It sounds like camp will start next week so I'll be getting there as soon as possible. It'll be my first time on the ice in a while when I get there."
Kirk worked his way up the development ladder in England before his promotion to Sheffield as a 16-year-old in 2016-17. Sheffield's roster, which includes former NHL players Tim Wallace and Zach Fitzgerald, has an average age of 28. Kirk compared the EIHL to the ECHL.
Video: Coyotes draft F Liam Kirk No. 189
"We are so proud of Liam, a young Englishman with a dream," said Sheffield coach Paul Thompson. "It's the first rung of the ladder, but why not start to climb it? The British hockey nation is also very proud and many good people from Sheffield have had an input into the story so far.
"His being drafted made my Saturday night."
It may also have given young English athletes another reason to play ice hockey.
"It's an honor just to be drafted, but to be from England, it's kind of incredible and I'm just really proud and very thankful to my family, friends and the coaches who have helped me reach this point," said Kirk, who was born in Rotherham, Great Britain. "I hope this does open up a lot of eyes so young kids can believe that their dreams can come true in everything, and not just ice hockey."
Kirk will likely be selected in the Canadian Hockey League import draft on Thursday. He hopes to be playing in the CHL next season.
He's been a key player for his country at almost every major international event since the age of 16. He played for Great Britain at the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship Division 2, Group A at 16, played in the 2017 World Junior Championship Division 1 Group B tournament at 17, and this season led Great Britain to a gold medal at the 2018 World U18s Division 2, Group A, and a bronze medal at the World Junior Championship Division 2, Group A with a tournament-best 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) at age 18.
Kirk also won a gold medal as the second-youngest player on the Great Britain men's national team at the 2018 IIHF World Championship Division 1, Group A tournament in April. A 3-2 shootout win against Hungary in the final game of the round-robin tournament secured Great Britain a promotion to the elite level of the World Championship for the first time since 1994.
Now Kirk begins the long road to possibly becoming the first player born and trained in the United Kingdom to play an NHL game.
"My mom and dad got tears in their eyes (after I was drafted), and I owe a lot to them for driving me back and forth to hockey games and training sessions," Kirk said. "I owe them a lot."