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Prospect Update: Josh Lopina
By Thomas Harrington
A fourth round pick from 2021, center Josh Lopina played his sophomore season at UMass this past year. Once it was over, he signed his entry-level deal with Anaheim and joined the Gulls on an ATO for the rest of the season.
In his sophomore season, Lopina played in two fewer games than his freshman season because of injury, but set career highs in goals, assists, and points, scoring 12 goals and 27 points in 27 games. He finished fourth on the team in goals, assists, and points. For the second year in a row Lopina finished with a +21 rating, which was second on UMass. In March, he had a career high four point night when he scored two goals and two assists. Three separate times he had a point streak of four games or more, and never went more than two games without a point. He also won just over 60% of his faceoffs.
With the Gulls, Lopina played in 13 games to finish out the season, primarily centering the team’s fourth line, but he did play further up in the lineup towards the end of the season. He scored a goal and four points. Lopina recorded his first career assist in his first game with San Diego and scored his only goal in the final game of the regular season. The more time he played with the Gulls, the better he got, earning the trust of his coach and being given more responsibility as the season went on. Lopina played in both of San Diego’s playoff games, scoring a goal, while even getting some time on the team’s top line.
This will be Lopina’s first full season in the AHL, and he’ll be competing for jobs against a number of other players like Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Chase De Leo, and Danny O’Regan. He’ll likely see time on all four lines, while getting time on the team’s penalty kill unit and maybe even the powerplay as well. If he can impress San Diego’s new coaching staff the way he did last season, he could be given a ton of responsibility this coming season..
Lopina was impressive in his limited action with the Gulls last season. Starting on the fourth line and moving up the lineup as the playoffs began was a great sign of how much the coaching staff trusted him. That being said, he only played in a total of 42 games last year and hasn’t played more than 60 games since the 2018-2019 season in the USHL, so I don’t want to set his expectations too high. First, he’s shown that he can score at the NCAA level, and I’d like to see that translate to the AHL. I’m not expecting him to score 20 goals or be among San Diego’s leading scorers, but I’d like to see 10+ goals out of him. Second, I want Lopina to play in as many games as possible, especially late in the season. I don’t want him to play a lot early then get healthy scratched if they are pushing for the playoffs, I want him to be in those important games to finish the season.
Lopina isn’t going to become a 40 goal scorer in the NHL someday, but he’s a well-rounded player who can be useful in virtually any situation. He wins faceoffs, he kills penalties, he scores goals, he blocks shots. His progression through San Diego’s lineup last season was impressive; now he’s got to show that he can keep up that pace over the course of a full season.
I don’t think Lopina will make his NHL debut this year, but if he can impress in his rookie season in San Diego, there is a real possibility he gets at least a game or two with Anaheim in the 2023-2024 season. However, unless he becomes one of the Gulls’ best players this season or next, I don’t think he’ll have a real shot at a permanent spot in the NHL until the 2024-2025 season at the earliest. It’s not uncommon for a player to get a few games in the NHL one year, a few more the following, and then a few more the year after that before getting a real chance to stick. Lopina has had a great year since being drafted, now he needs to be even better, and if he can do that, we’ll see him in Anaheim sooner rather than later.
Lopina’s entry-level contract will begin this year and he’ll be a restricted free agent in three years. Personally, I was surprised to see him sign with Anaheim a year after being drafted in the fourth round, though he was an overage player when he was drafted. However, he had a strong final season in college and made a good first impression with the Gulls. If he can keep impressing and make it to the NHL in the next year or two, Anaheim will absolutely be re-signing him three years from now.
The next prospect update will be on Olle Eriksson Ek.
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September 16th, 2022