It is very rare that a seventh-round draft pick gets much attention, but when the Arizona Coyotes selected Liam Kirk 189th overall in 2018 it drew the attention of an entire nation.
The 19-year-old Yorkshireman became the first-ever English-born and English-trained player to be drafted into the NHL when the Arizona Coyotes called his name in Dallas.
He isn’t, of course, the first player to have been selected from the United Kingdom, as both Tony Hand (Edmonton, 252nd, 1986) and Colin Shields (Philadelphia, 195th, 2000) were chosen years before Kirk.
But he is the highest-ever drafted British player and the first to have come from England, making a number of hockey fans across the pond take notice.
While it is very rare for such a late round pick to become anything in the NHL, there is a sense of expectation that Kirk could make the jump in the near future.
After registering nine goals and 16 total points in 52 regular season games in the EIHL, the top level of hockey in the UK, Kirk moved to Canada to play for the Peterborough Petes after being drafted.
Understandably, things progressed slowly at first with the young Englishman adapting to a new environment and new style of hockey.
He soon grasped major juniors and finished the season on a high, with 26 goals and 47 total points in his 63 regular season games in the Ontario Hockey League.
Kirk also had five goals and 14 total points in five games for Team GB at the World Junior Championships (D2A) before playing a part in the full international team’s World Championship campaign at the end of the season.
The Maltby native’s impressive season has given fans on both sides of the Atlantic hope that he could be the latest in a string of promising late-round picks that the Coyotes have taken a gamble on.
There were also some hopes that Kirk would feature in at least one exhibition game for the Coyotes this summer, but that wasn’t to be as he was one of the first players to be cut from training camp and sent back to Peterborough for another season of development.
The 2019-20 season will now be one of great importance for Kirk, who may have the opportunity to earn an AHL deal at its conclusion - depending on how he steps up compared to his rookie season.
The Coyotes are an organization that are perfectly happy letting fringe players develop within their system and playing for the Tucson Roadrunners could be the next steps that Kirk needs to take in order to move closer toward achieving his dream of playing in the NHL.
If Kirk is able to improve his points production from last season and become, at the very least, a point-per-game player in the OHL and have a strong showing in the playoffs, then he may very well play a role in the Roadrunners’ training camp next summer.
Kirk was always going to be a project for the Coyotes, but his early showings in North America should give the organization hope that he can develop similarly to Conor Garland.
Fortunately for Kirk, he was selected by arguably the best possible organization for his development. He will be given time to develop and it seems the Arizona Coyotes are intent on developing guys from within.
If Kirk can elevate his game to the next level, he could be in for a real shot at progressing into the professional leagues next summer and could be on track to become the first Englishman to ever play in the best league in the world.