2010-11: Justin Kirkland played for the Camrose Kodiaks bantam AAA team in Alberta and played for the Northeast Flyers in the Alberta Cup. He scored 1 goal with 3 assists in four Alberta Cup games. Kirkland was selected by Kelowna in the fifth round (103rd overall) of the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft.
2011-12: Kirkland made his WHL debut as a 15-year-old — skating in six games with the Kelowna Rockets in December — while attending the College of Notre Dame in Saskatchewan and skating for the Argos midget AAA team. He had 1 assist and an even plus/minus in his brief experience with the Rockets. Kirkland scored 13 goals with 22 assists and had 26 penalty minutes in 43 regular season games for the Argos and scored 5 goals with 4 assists and 8 penalty minutes in eight playoff games.
2012-13: Kirkland returned to Notre Dame for a second year — again playing with Kelowna during the holiday break and skating in one game in March; rejoining the Rockets for the WHL playoffs. He scored 2 goals and was +2 with 6 penalty minutes in six regular season games and was +1 with 1 assist in six WHL playoff contests. Kirkland skated in one game with the Notre Dame Hounds junior team with no points or penalties. He scored 25 goals with 24 assists and had 42 penalty minutes in 44 regular season games for the midget AAA Argos and had 2 assists and 2 penalty minutes in three playoff games.
2013-14: Kirkland played in 68 of 72 regular season games for Kelowna in his first WHL season. He scored 17 goals with 31 assists and was +23 with 40 penalty minutes. The Rockets finished first in the B.C. Division and had the WHL’s best record. After winning eight of nine playoff games to reach the Western Conference finals Kelowna lost in five games to Portland. Kirkland scored 5 goals with 5 assists and was +3 with 20 penalty minutes in 14 playoff games. He was ranked 67th amongst North American skaters in the Central Scouting final rankings and was selected by Nashville in the third round (62nd overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft.
2014-15: Kirkland was a point-per-game scorer for Kelowna in his second WHL season before suffering a lower-body injury in February. He returned to the lineup during the WHL playoffs after missing over two months and had five points in five games at the Memorial Cup. He scored 21 goals with 30 assists and was +31 with 25 penalty minutes in 50 regular season games. Kirkland returned to the lineup during the Rockets’ second round series against Victoria. He scored 3 goals with 2 assists and was +7 with no penalties in nine WHL playoff games. Kelowna defeated Brandon in the WHL Finals and advanced to the Memorial Cup championship game, falling 2-1 to Oshawa in overtime. Kirkland had an assist against Rimouski and scored 2 goals with 2 assists in Kelowna’s 9-3 win over Quebec in the semifinals, finishing +1 in five games at the Memorial Cup.
Kirkland has the size to be a prototypical power forward and is willing to play in the small areas and in front of the net. His stick handling and pass receiving skills are still a work in progress and will need to improve if he is going to succeed in the tighter spaces at the pro level. Not overly abrasive despite his size, he is still developing in terms of positional play.
Kirkland attended prospect camp with the Predators in July and will attend the 2015 training camp before returning to Kelowna for his third WHL season. With the possible exception of Oilers' prospect Leon Draisaitl, the Rockets return the core group of forwards from their championship club and Kirkland is expected to step into a top line role. Long-range Kirkland projects as a power forward-type with secondary scoring capabilities and the strength to win battles along the walls and in front of the opposing goaltender. His skill set would offer a compliment to the high-flying, smaller skill forwards in the Nashville pipeline.