SHEFFIELD STEELERS' Liam Kirk is on his way to North America to begin the next phase of his career after being picked by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2018 NHL Draft.
The 18-year-old was a seventh round, 189th overall pick in the annual selection process in Dallas, which is staged to allow teams in the world's top league to pick the cream of young hockey talent from around the globe over the course of two days.
Kirk, from Maltby, near Rotherham, is the first English-born and trained player to be drafted and the first British-born and trained to be selected since Scotland's Colin Shields in 2000.
He began his senior hockey career in the now-defunct English Premier League with Sheffield Steeldogs, but was only halfway through the second year of his apprenticeship with Sheffield Steelers that he began first interested a number of NHL clubs in his second season with the Sheffield Steelers in the Elite League and will now spend next season developing his game in North America.
Speaking ahead of the Draft, which began with the big-name, first-round picks on Friday, Kirk said: "I’m confident that I’ve shown my abilities throughout the year, I’m confident that I had a good Combine - but it’s more about what you do after the draft. Hopefully, I get to go to some NHL camps but, if not, the plan is to play in the CHL next year and show them what I can do and develop my game further."
Reaction to Kirk's selection was greeted positvely by NHL pundits who were covering the draft at Dallas'a American Airlines Centre.
Dave Reid, a Stanley Cup winner with Dallas Stars in 1999, said: "There was a lot of interest in him over here and a lot of the scouts were raving about him and it's all about getting him some higher competition, then where is his ceiling? He has played very well in a men's league as a teenager.
"It's an unprecedented situation and is great to see and it will be interesting to see how he does in the training camps and the prospects camps moving forward but I think it is fantastic."
Last month, Kirk - who began a two-year apprenticeship with the Steelers in 2016 - became the first British-born and trained player to be invited and complete the NHL Combine, undergoing an arduous series of physical tests with around 130 other young prospects from around the world. He also conducted interviews with 10 of the NHL's 31 teams who had tracked his progress in the UK with the Steelers - one of those was Arizona, but there were also talks with Arizone, Colorado, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington, Ottawa, New York Rangers, San Jose Boston and Chicago.
Experts on both sides of the Atlantic were confident the GB international would be drafted, with some even predicting a potential Round Five pick. In the end, however, the Maltby-born winger had to wait until the final round of selections before hearing his name read out by the Coyotes, who finished bottom of the Western Conference and third-bottom in the overall NHL standings.
Kirk - the first British-born and British trained player to be drafted since Colin Shields back in 2000, when he was a sixth round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers - has made no secret of his desire to set a trend and become the first-ever British-born and British-trained player to play in the NHL and is expecting to play junior hockey in the CHL next season in order to showcase what he has to offer on a regular basis.