A lot of attention has been on British forward Liam Kirk since he was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the seventh round of the 2018 Draft.
Taken with the 189th overall pick, the Coyotes have had two good looks at Kirk up close over the past two seasons in training camp, with the 20-year-old remaining with the NHL team until the middle of September before ultimately returning to the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League.
Kirk took the assignment and ran with it, improving several areas in his game, including his overall offensive production, and was named one of the team’s alternate captains, a rare honour for an import player that had just one year of juniors experience under his belt.
In his rookie campaign in Canada, Kirk registered 26 goals and 47 total points in 63 regular-season games and then followed that up with a 50-point (21 goals, 29 assists) season in just 47 games.
The Maltby, Yorkshire native struggled with injuries and illness over the Christmas period, limiting him in his total appearances before the season pause, but he was on a 67-point pace over a 63-game season (the number of games he had reached the year before).
While it is likely that Kirk will return to Peterborough to play out his overage season, where he will be expected to dominate and put up significant numbers, he should be given an opportunity to stake a claim on a roster spot with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliates, the Tucson Roadrunners.
At 20 years old, Kirk is eligible to make the jump up into the professional leagues and has a legitimate shot at making the roster if he performs as well as he has over the past two years in NHL camp.
The Coyotes were adamant that they believe in Kirk’s potential when they drafted him and should allow him the opportunity to impress with the Roadrunners, potentially securing himself a minor league deal.
If Kirk can make the jump up into the AHL next season, it would be another impressive step in his professional career and brings him closer to realising his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
At worst, he requires another year in the OHL to take his game even further and refine other areas that are still not quite the finished article, before giving it his all to make the AHL roster next season, with the Coyotes enjoying a far more fruitful relationship with the Roadrunners and developing young players, such as Conor Garland.
With the flat salary cap over the next couple of seasons making teams re-think their signing strategy, the Arizona Coyotes could benefit from prospects signing minor league deals and developing further in the AHL before signing their entry-level contract, keeping costs as low as possible while teams adjust to their ‘new normal’.
For Kirk, it would put him in a place to learn and further his development, returning to playing against adults while putting him far closer to the NHL team, giving him the very best coaching and advice as he seeks to make history and become an inspiration to English players across the pond.