Belfast Giants forward Colin Shields says he sees no reason why fellow NHL draftee Liam Kirk can’t be a star in North America.
The 18-year-old is with new club Arizona Coyotes after being picked on Saturday and is already being put through his paces as he looks to make his mark.
Kirk was a key player for Sheffield Steelers over the last two seasons when the Yorkshire club battled it out with champions Cardiff Devils in Elite League.
Devils have won back-to-back titles, qualifying for European Champions League hockey again, while Steelers lifted the play-offs trophy in 2017.
Shields, the last Brit to be drafted when Philadelphia Flyers picked him in 2000, looked back on his own experience when he was handed his chance.
“I don’t see why Liam can’t make it to the NHL,” he said. “He has good size, skates well and sees the ice well. The way the game’s played now, it’s about speed and skating.
“He has a great opportunity and I hope he can make an impact. I don’t expect him to call me for advice, but all I would say to him is give it your best shot.
“Everyone’s going to be watching and there’s a lot of confidence in him he can make that jump. To be drafted is such an accomplishment and it’s just the start for him now.
“Hopefully he can make the next step.
“Looking back at my experience, it’s probably a lot different to what Liam has gone through now. At the time, I remember there had been a lot of rumours.
“I wasn’t even sure I was going to be taken, so I was at home in Scotland and the time difference meant I was actually in my bed.
“I woke up the next morning and went on the old dial-up internet to find out I’d been drafted. The next thing I had phone calls from my agent and Philadelphia Flyers.”
Kirk, from Rotherham, was drafted to NHL side Arizona Coyotes in the seventh rounds, 189th, during the event held in Dallas.
“I don’t have any words for [being drafted], I’m just very excited and really emotional,” said Kirk.
“I’ve been waiting for it and when it finally happened it was an amazing feeling.”
Before Kirk was picked up on Saturday, Shields and Tony Hand were the previous two Brits to have been taken by NHL clubs, but neither quite made the grade.
Shields spent five years in North America, playing for the University of Maine for four years and then a season in the East Coast League with three teams before signing for Belfast in 2005.
The 38-year-old played against Kirk last season and was also his teammate for Great Britain in the World Championships when Pete Russell’s side achieve promotion to the top group.
Shields spoke of his delight that Kirk has his chance in ‘The Show’ saying: “It was a great experience and an accomplishment at that stage in my career and looking back, it’s one of the biggest moments of my life.
“It’s different today with social media and the exposure the kids have, but I’m sure it was a big moment for Liam and I’m more than happy for him.
“For him, this is a starting point and his foot in the door. Now he goes over there and starts playing, whether that’s the CHL or whatever league he goes, it’s important he gets that experience now.
“It’s a different style of play compared to the Elite League and he’ll come up against guys his own age with the same goals to him. Hopefully he can make that jump now.
“Over the course of the season, you could really see him improve and for a kid like that, it was good to see. The Steelers gave him more ice time, which was good also.
“You’re 18-years-old and playing against men basically so it’s important for him to get into a league playing against similar guys with similar goals.
“Playing with him in the GB team was interesting and it was the same with the Steelers where he didn’t get a lot of ice time to getting more as the tournament went on and his confidence grew.
“The coaches saw he could play at that level and he became more effective in a standard which was high.
“He’s a good kid, who wants to learn and listen. I had some good conversations with him and it was great to see the enthusiasm he has for the game.”
Cardiff-born Nathan plays for Washington Capitals
Nathan Walker became the first Welshman to compete at NHL level in 45 years when he signed for Washington Capitals a year ago.
He is the first Cardiff-born player to earn an NHL chance.
The 24-year-old scored on his NHL debut, in a 6-1 win against Montreal Canadiens and his achievement was hailed throughout Australia, where he grew up, across North America and in the UK.
“It was incredible to get on the ice with those guys and get the NHL game in,” he said. “It was really special.”
Walker was born in Cardiff to rugby-loving Wayne and Ceri and has an older brother, Ryan. The family moved to Cronulla, Australia when Nathan was two-years-old and he later played rugby league for the local Sharks junior team.
Ryan played hockey, representing Australia at under-18 level, and Nathan says: “My brother Ryan was playing, and, as the younger brother, I just wanted to copy what he was doing.
“Next thing you know, I was hooked. Those Mighty Ducks movies, which came out when I was really young, had a big part to play in it as well.”
The four-man Welsh NHL hall of fame:
Cy Thomas (August 5, 1926 to January 2, 2009) was a professional ice hockey player from Dowlais, Wales. He played 14 NHL games for Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks.
Wilf Cude (July 4, 1906 to May 5, 1968). Goaltender from Barry, South Wales. Played 10 seasons (1930-1941) in goal for Philadelphia Quakers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens.
In those years ice hockey goalies did not wear face masks.
Cude’s family relocated from Wales to Winnipeg, Manitoba in search of employment and he started playing ice hockey there.
Jack Evans (April 21, 1928 to November 10, 1996). Born Garnant, Wales. Defenceman. Played for New York Rangers and Chicago Black Hawks between 1946 and 1972.
HIs family emigrated to Drumheller, Alberta in his youth. Only spoke Welsh when he arrived in Canada and when he learned English spoke with an elongated drawl that earned him the nickname ‘Tex’.
Started playing ice hockey at the age of 14 and quickly became a leading junior league D-man. He was a member of Chicago’s 1961 Stanley Cup winning team and played in the 1962 NHL AllStar game in Toronto.
Nathan Walker (born February 7, 1994). Aged 23. Cardiff-born forward who has played for Australian club Sydney Ice Dogs and HC Vitkovice in the Czech Republic plus North American teams Youngstown Phantoms, Hershey Bears and South Carolina Stingrays before Washington Capitals.