Sheffield's Kirk targets NHL deal of a lifetime
NHL giants Arizona Coyotes are keeping a closer eye than usual on their South Yorkshire asset Liam Kirk.
Kirk, who played for Sheffield Steelers and Sheffield Steeldogs in recent tournaments, is hoping to have brushed off an injury to demonstrate his glittering array of skills for Great Britain in the World
Championships in Latvia, starting on Saturday.
The Maltby-born skater was drafted by Arizona in June 2018, and was heralded as the first player born and trained in England to be drafted into the NHL
Kirk was farmed out to the Peterborough Petes in the OHL before the pandemic struck.
Now he has one more season left under the auspices of Arizona and hopes his displays against world superstars will persuade them to offer him a place on their roster.
The machinations behind a player's draft obligations are not known to all in the UK.
So Kirk explained: "When you get drafted the NHL have your rights for so many years, for me it is four years, you are not under contract but they do hold your rights.
"For me now, it is all about having a good (IIHF) tournament and impressing Arizona and hoping they can offer me a contract.
"Maybe, I will have also impressed different organisations or other teams around the world.
"Arizona have a say on things and advises where I go. NHL-wise they are the only team that can sign me, unless I was traded. At the end of the day I have the last say in where I go."
Kirk, 21, says his main goal was to sign for Arizona.
"I still have another year under them, and if I don't get an NHL contract at least I'd hope to get an AHL contract in their organisation, I'll take it day by day and play as good as I can."
An AHL contract could see him represent affiliate Arizona team Tucson Roadrunners.
If that move also fails to materialise, he could end up back on this side of the Atlantic.
Earlier this year, Kirk played a dozen games for Hanhals IF in Sweden, scoring five goals and five assists. That display boosted his profile over there.
In fact, Allsvenskan club Mora IK are monitoring Kirk, with head coach Johan Hedberg confirming the Brit was "one of several players we look at. I do not want to say more than that."
In the unlikely chance that nobody comes in for him, would Kirk be disappointed if he had to return to Steelers?
"I wouldn't say disappointed, the Elite League is getting a lot better. It is not my first goal, my first is Arizona, but right now I am focusing on this tournament with GB and playing some good hockey and getting a few results. The main thing for me is trying to improve and doing the best I can."
Kirk says he will continue to learn from the likes of Steelers Jonathan Phillips and Robert Dowd, whom he has grown up admiring.
"They are friends now, Dowdy and Jonna have been inspirational, the way they carry themselves on and off the ice, I have really grown and learned from them."