Luke Prokop is on a roll. The out gay hockey prospect has won two championships in his first two professional seasons, and is now one step closer to realizing his dream of playing in the NHL.
The Nashville Predators, who control Prokop’s rights, have elevated the 21-year-old defenseman to their AHL team, the Milwaukee Admirals. The AHL serves as the primary development league for the NHL, meaning Prokop is on the cusp of becoming the first out gay active player to ever wear an NHL uniform.
Over the summer, Prokop spoke candidly about his rise. “You’re so close to your dream of playing in the National Hockey League,” he told The Tennessean.
When Prokop came out publicly following the 2020 NHL Draft, he faced the same tired questions about whether his sexuality would derail his athletic career. But it was a risk he was willing to take.
If that was the price of mental peace, so be it.
“I was entirely okay with not playing anymore and just being who I wanted to be, because I found love from my family and friends,” he said in an interview with Glory Sports. “There was anxiety, for sure. But at the end of the day, I had to be true to myself.”
The Edmonton native has achieved great success since embracing his true self. Last season, he totaled 17 assists and scored four goals for the Seattle Thunderbirds, playing an integral role in the WHL club’s championship chase.
The previous year, the 6-foot-6 defenseman played for his hometown Edmonton Oil Kings, and won a title as well.
Prokop’s coming out was a big deal. In the immediate aftermath, he fielded supportive calls from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and music legend Elton John.
But it was his chat with execs from the Predators that meant the most.
Any fears he harbored about his club’s reaction were quickly put to rest.
“The phone call I had with [the Predators] was the last little bit of confidence I needed,” he said. “I knew they believed in me 100% and thought it was the right thing to do.”
Despite growing up in Canada, Prokop followed the Predators growing up, and latched onto the Sun Belt club when they made a surprise run at the Stanley Cup in 2017. He was also a huge fan of star defenseman Shea Weber, who played for Nashville and wore No. 6–just like Prokop.
“To know that I’m drafted by the same organization, which is known for producing defensemen, this is an honor,” Prokop said. “Hopefully I can get to this level.”
While it’s always sweet to be drafted by your favorite team, Prokop loves the Predators for another reason: their embrace of the LGBTQ+ community. Last season, multiple NHL players and teams refused to wear rainbow warmups during their Pride Nights, prompting the league to ban speciality jerseys entirely.
It was a reactionary and short-sighted move that drew scorn from multiple NHL stars. With that in mind, Prokop says he’s proud to represent the Predators, who remain steadfast allies.
“They have almost every excuse to not do the Pride stuff. Being in Tennessee, it’s more of a conservative state,” he said. “So they might kind of be going against most people’s opinions. They have every right to not do the [Pride] nights, but they do it anyway. They want to show the game is for everyone.”
Never afraid to speak out, Prokop expressed disappointment last season at the Pride boycotts.
It’s rare for pro hockey players to criticize their brethren, especially when they’re 20-year-old prospects. But for Prokop, his values outweighed antiquated norms.
“I share the disappointment in what feels like a step back for inclusion in the NHL,” he posted on social media. “Pride nights and pride night jerseys play in important role in promoting respect and inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community, and it’s disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing them or fully embracing their significance.
“Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs but I think it’s important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it.”
It’s great to see Prokop run towards his gay identity, rather than away from it. This summer, he participated in his first Pride festival, and appeared to have a blast.
He also found plenty time to hang with his friends. It seems as if Prokop’s life is blossoming on all fronts.
But with training camp now underway, Prokop is all business. In order to make history, he has to keep performing on the ice.
He’s up to the task.
“I think I’ve done a really good job, especially during the season, of keeping a low profile by just focusing on hockey,” he said. “I’m a hockey player. That’s my job. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
He’s certainly off to a great start.