Liam Kirk is in the Valley for Arizona Coyotes’ third development camp of his career. But this one feels different.
The 21-year-old England forward is on an entry-level three-year contract, and as someone who’s been there and done so in rookie camps, he’s a player some of the younger Coyotes prospects can turn to for advice.
The contract, announced in July, was a clear sign that the Coyotes Kirk also look a little different than before. With the pandemic limiting his action in Europe, Kirk played for Great Britain in the IIHF World Championship Tournament in Latvia in May and June, finishing with seven goals, tied for the most of all players.
This included solid NHL players representing several countries where hockey is a bigger deal.
Coyotes fans have long loved Kirk, a former seventh-round roster, but had waited for him to show something to gain more front office prestige. Coyotes General Manager Bill Armstrong and his staff were unable to see Kirk in the canceled Ontario Hockey League last season, but kept a close eye on Kirk in Latvia.
The contract he got was a reward for his improved game.
“It’s definitely hard, especially the way the season went. There was a whole new staff change here, a new GM, a new coach now. So for them not to see me fully play in the OHL, which would normally happen , it was hard for them too,” Kirk said. “I’ve said this many times. I went to the Worlds to work hard and play the right way and see what comes of it, and at the end of the day the GM and staff make the decision whether or not I contract or not, and I had to go there to earn it.
“They made that decision and thought it was right to give me one, and I think it shows that they want me here and want to know if I can become an NHL player,” Kirk added.
The contract was the big prize, but fans in his native Britain and in Arizona reached out to Kirk to congratulate him on his success. It meant a lot to him.
New Coyotes head coach Andr Tourigny has seen a lot from Kirk from coaching against him in the OHL to when Tourigny was an assistant coach for Team Canada in Latvia and saw Kirk there.
“He’s a talented player. He’s got really good skills. He’s obviously from another country where hockey isn’t their first nature, but he showed a lot of character that he could adapt in the OHL and he was a strong player to play against Tourigny said.
Kirk’s level of comfort at camp allowed him to show the newcomers and hitches how it works and that they feel welcome. He is already familiar with the AHL Tucson staff who are in Glendale this weekend, including head coach Jay Varady and assistant Steve Potvin, and getting to know others.
“Liam, I’ve been able to talk to him in the locker room and just talk about all the different things we’re doing while we’re here, and he’s been great taking me under his wing and letting me know what’s going on” said Josh Doan, a Coyotes’ second-round pick earlier this year.
Tucson could be where Kirk starts this season. The NHL is the goal, but he’s not putting any pressure on himself to get there quickly.
“When I was drafted, I set timeline goals in my head, and it caused more panic when I didn’t reach that timeline,” Kirk said. “You don’t get a three-year entry contract for nothing, so I don’t put a time stamp on it. I focus every day on improving, getting better. If they think the time is right, the time is right.” “
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