The middle and late rounds of the draft are an interesting time. The remaining players are, to pardon the expressions, usually ones with some flaws or gaps in their games. Maybe they’re small. Maybe they haven’t played a lot against high-end talent. In the case of Liam Kirk, a forward that the Calgary Flames should consider with one of their fourth round selections, maybe they’re from a country (England) that never produces hockey talent of any kind.
When you dig below the surface, Kirk really seems like he could be a hidden gem.
From Rotherham, a suburb of Sheffield, Kirk is lanky as heck – he’s listed at 6’2″ and 159 pounds. He’s got a big frame, thankfully, which should allow him to pack on some muscle. A left shot forward, he can play the wing or center.
For lack of a better term, Kirk is what would probably happen if you parachuted a talented, lanky Canadian into British hockey. He utterly dominated the various domestic teenage leagues, averaging between three and four points per game in the English U16, U18 and U20 leagues. Because of his dominance, he’s been playing pro since 2015-16… when he was 15.
He racked up 22 games of pro in 2015-16 split between the English Premier Ice Hockey League’s Sheffield Steeldogs and the National Ice Hockey League’s Sheffield Spartans while also playing in the U18 and U20 leagues. He represented Great Britain in the Division 2 World Under-18 Championship, as well.
In 2016-17 he played 57 games of pro split between the EPIHL and the Elite Ice Hockey League’s Sheffield Steelers in the top level of English hockey. He was held pointless in 19 games in the top league, but continued his success otherwise. He represented Great British again in the Division 2 World Under-18s and the Division 1 World Juniors.
Kirk spent the entire last season with the Steelers in the EIHL, playing 52 games. He also played a ton of international hockey, suiting up for the Division 2 World Under-18s, the Division 2 World Juniors and the Division 1 World Championship – and he medalled in every event, capturing U18 gold, World Junior bronze and World Championship gold.
Our friends at Dobber Prospects had this assessment of his game:
Liam Kirk is an intriguing prospect. He recently turned 18 and has been playing professional for the Sheffield Steelers in the EIHL in Great Britain since he was 16. The Elite Ice Hockey League is a tough league, known for still employing enforcers, with many games featuring lots of physicality. The league is often compared in quality of play to the ECHL. The slight Liam Kirk has been holding his own. He has very soft hands and is an efficient and agile skater. Kirk also has a quick and accurate release on his shot. Liam is another young prospect coming from a Commonwealth market who is showing potential. He doesn’t have the same crash-and-bang playing style as Australian Nathan Walker, but has potential of being a utility scoring forward with his good skating and soft touch on the puck. His production so far this season at the top level is modest with 14 points in 44 games, but with his skills it can be expected that his offensive production will increase with ice time in coming seasons. Liam Kirk is a scoring forward playing in one of the toughest leagues at 18 years old and being effective. Scouts are taking notice.
For whatever it’s worth, Kirk helped the Steelers reach the EIHL final. (They lost, but they made it.)
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Kirk was one of seven U18 players in EIHL and easily out-scored everybody. When you expand his comparison group to all junior-aged players he’s still the top scorer – he had as many goals as the second-place player had points. Only when you expand the comparison group to everyone 22 and younger that he falls out of first place, but only to third.
He’s easily the best young player in that league.
Fit and availability
Kirk is definitely a project, but his results so far have been encouraging. He’s indicated that he’s willing to come over to North America to play major-junior, so presumably he could be snagged by a WHL club to develop in Calgary’s backyard. He may be a bit of a Mark Jankowski-esque patience project, but he’s got offensive chops and has shown an ability to adapt to pro hockey. The Flames also have Brian McGrattan, who played in the EIHL, on staff, so potentially he could get them some additional intel on his development.
In terms of availability: he’s ranked 65th among European skaters by Central Scouting, 136th overall by Future Considerations and 179th by ISS Hockey. Barring a big reach early in the draft by a team with many, many picks, he should be available when the Flames select in the fourth round.
2018 fourth round targets
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