IT'S a case of one in, one out at Sheffield Steelers after Paul Thompson unveiled another teenage apprentice at the Elite League club.
Defenceman Jordan Griffin will follow in the footsteps of fellow Bradford Bulldogs' junior Kieran Brown after agreeing to join the South Yorkshire club ahead of a 2018-19 season which will see the Steelers do without the services of star youngster Liam Kirk, who is listed for the annual NHL Draft and destined to play junior hockey in North American later this year.
Kirk, who this weekend heads over to Buffalo for the NHL Combine, was one of two apprentices signed up by the Steelers two years ago, alongside Cole Shudra. Both have enjoyed greater responsbility and ice-time during their second season, but it is Kirk who clearly caught the eye, with several NHL scouts making the effort to come over to the UK and watch him play.
And 16-year-old Griffin will look to follow in Kirk's footsteps, with Steelers' head coach Thompson first becoming aware of when seeing him play in Coventry around three years ago, making a mental note of him for future reference.
Thanks to a positive working relationship with Bradford Junior coach Andy Brown - father of Steelers' forward Kieran - Thompson was kept appraised of Griffin's development, which saw him captain Great Britain Under-16s last season.
Thompson was impressed enough last season to invite Griffin down to a number of training sessions with the Steelers, in which he showed the necessary qualities to be given a shot at furthering his career on a full-time basis in Sheffield come August.
"When I first saw Jordan he just stood out head and shoulders above the rest of the players there that day," said Thompson. "And I was able to talk to Kieran about him with the Bradford connection.
"So we invited him down to practice and I liked the fact that he could take on information and as he came down more and more, in school holidays etc, we felt that he started to adapt pretty quickly, even thought it is still a massive jump from where he is right now.
"And British defencemen aren't exactly hanging off trees right now, so we felt as an organisation that to develop a young British defencemen would be the right thing to do. Our job is to get the best young British talent that there is around - it's even better if they are a Yorkshire lad.
"This apprenticeship scheme is something I always wanted to do when I came back from abroad and I think it is proved that had we not picked up Kirky, I believe he would still have been playing in the league below and hardly anybody would have known about him. He wouldn't have developed as quickly as he did once he came to us."
Griffin said he was keen to make the most of his opportunity in Sheffield, adding: "This is a great chance for me. I look at the progress the likes of Liam, Cole Shudra and Kieran have had and realise I’m lucky to be joining the Steelers at this time.
“I enjoyed training with the Steelers and playing against these better players. I want to get better and play at the highest level I can."
THE Elite League has confirmed the 2018-19 season will see the league contested by just 11 teams, following the demise last month of Edinburgh Capitals.
An attempt to replace Edinburgh by the newly-formed Murrayfield Racers, who had already gained the ice-time contract for the city's rink, was rejected by the EIHL board earlier this month.
EIHL chairman Tony Smith, also owner of Sheffield Steelers, said: “We examined the options available to us at great depth and the most logical one to take was to go with 11 teams for the 2018-19 season."
Despite there being one less team, the EIHL regular season will now see each team play four more games overall, taking the total to 60 before the play-offs begin. Each team will play each other three times at home and away.