Often times it is said that the transition from juniors to the professional ranks is made easier when players are able to join at the end of the season. It helps eliminate many questions long before that debut season of pro hockey begins: knowing the coaches and players, the city you’ll be living in, etc. Some get the chance to play. Jack Dougherty, Aaron Irving, Anthony Richard, and Yakov Trenin all did that last season. Even if they don’t get the chance to play the benefits of being around the group and learning the surroundings is a boost. Alex Carrier was in that boat last season. As for Justin Kirkland? He missed out on that opportunity.
As the next wave of talent was forming in Milwaukee at the end of the 2015-16 season Kirkland was still playing a huge part in the Kelowna Rockets pursuit of winning the WHL Championship for a second consecutive season. He had come up short with Kelowna last season and completed a junior playing career with that organization that spanned 199 games where he produced 169 points (71 goals, 98 assists).
Kirkland first settled into the city of Milwaukee was during pre-season training camp. And, after having such a high powered offensive junior playing career, the opening to his pro debut season was lacking that level of form. In his first 14 games as a pro he didn’t score a point. He recorded his first pro point on 12/10/16 from a secondary assist. His first pro goal wouldn’t come as a member of the Admirals though. He was assigned to the Cincinnati Cyclones and managed to score in his second stint with the Admirals’ ECHL affiliate. His first AHL goal wouldn’t be that far behind. And when he scored it – you didn’t get a celebration as much as a burst of relief from him. The celebration came more from his teammates excited to see him get the job done.
In watching the Admirals practice as often as I get the opportunity to do I always appreciate how well Kirkland performs in all drills he’s thrown to. He only recently has been tasked to play games at center and did so out of necessity for Kelowna with injuries piling up. He’s bounced around here and there with the Admirals as far as his lines or roles but he continues to look more comfortable as he comes to grips with the pro game.
Cheers to Justin Kirkland for taking the time to chat. Tomorrow the Milwaukee Admirals will be in action hosting Félix Girard and the San Antonio Rampage. On Thursday we’ll be getting the next edition of Fifiteen up featuring Justin Florek. Any requests for the next batch of the “Fifteen” series? Please leave you suggestions in the comment section below.
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