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Gulls 2022-23 Season Preview
By Thomas Harrington
The 2022-2023 Gulls season begins on Friday against the Grand Rapids Griffins. After last year’s disappointing season, San Diego will need to prove that they are one of the top teams in the Pacific Division. Last season, the Gulls finished seventh in the Pacific, grabbed the last playoff spot, and lost to their rivals, the Ontario Reign, in two games. For the first time in their franchise history, the Gulls will play in 72 games, which is how many games every team will play in the AHL this season. San Diego will once again have a new coach, as Roy Sommer will lead the team after Joel Bouchard only coached one season. Sommer has been the coach for San Jose’s AHL affiliate for the past 26 years and is the AHL’s all-time leader in wins and games coached.
There will be a pair of familiar faces in net for San Diego this year: Lukas Dostal and Olle Eriksson Ek will return as San Diego’s two primary goaltenders. Dostal has been San Diego’s starter for the past two seasons, while last year was Eriksson Ek’s first full year in the AHL. As a team, the Gulls had an up and down season last year, which was reflected in both goaltenders’ numbers. As long as the team is better, I anticipate both Dostal and Eriksson Ek having a strong year.
The Gulls will have a mostly new defensive core this year. Gone are players like Jacob Larsson, Brogan Rafferty, and Brendan Guhle. Manning the blueline this year will be Austin Strand, Drew Helleson, Axel Andersson, Luka Profaca, Nikolas Brouillard, Josh Healey, and Olli Juolevi.
This will be Helleson’s rookie season. He played in 17 AHL games last year after the conclusion of his college career. Andersson and Brouillard are the only two returning defensemen from last year. Brouillard led the defense with 39 points, while it was Andersson’s first full year playing in North America. Strand and Juolevi are veterans trying to get back to the NHL, but they have played well in the AHL over the last few seasons. Healey has been an AHL mainstay over the past several seasons and should bring a veteran presence to San Diego’s bottom pairing. Profaca was just signed to an AHL contract. He just finished his junior career in the OHL, so I expect him to be the team’s seventh defenseman, especially early in the season. Depending on how things go in Anaheim, I could see any of Nathan Beaulieu, Simon Benoit, Colton Whie, or Urho Vaakanainen in San Diego at some point this season. As the Ducks get healthy, at least one of them is guaranteed to spend time with the Gulls.
San Diego has a pretty deep forward group. While Lukas Elvenes and Alex Limoges have moved on, the team will instead be led by up-and-coming prospects like Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Jacob Perreault, and Brayden Tracey and veterans like Danny O’Regan, Chase De Leo, and Glenn Gawdin. The rest of the forwards include Josh Lopina, Dmitry Osipov, Bryce Kindopp, Evan Weinger, Brent Gates, Jr., Blake McLaughlin, Justin Kirkland, Logan Nijhoff, Max Golod, Hunter Drew, and Ben King.
Groulx, Perreault, and Tracey represent three of Anaheim’s better forward prospects. I expect all three to see time in Anaheim this year, but when they are with San Diego, they need to be among the team’s more dangerous forwards. This will be O’Regan’s second season with the Gulls, and he’ll be looking to improve on what he did last year. De Leo returns to San Diego after playing with New Jersey and Utica last season. Gawdin is a new addition who will hopefully step into the void left by Elvenes and Limoges departing. Gates and Golod have both split time between the AHL and ECHL over the past few seasons, and I expect them to do so again.
Lopina and McLaughlin are both rookies who joined the Gulls at the end of last season, when their college careers concluded. Drew made the full time transition to forward last year and the results were great; hopefully he’ll be able to be even better this year. Kirkland has spent the last several years in the AHL and figures to be one of the better scorers for the Gulls. Kindopp has become a dependable two-way player in his two years with San Diego. Hopefully he can continue to develop and become a top scorer. This will be Nijhoff’s first full year in the AHL after finishing his junior career last season and joining the Gulls for a few games. Weinger, King, and Osipov are in San Diego on tryout deals, and it remains to be seen if they stay with the team this year. Depending how things go in Anaheim, I could see Pavol Regenda or Sam Carrick getting time with San Diego as well. The Ducks are also trying to sign Rocco Grimaldi to an AHL deal, but it remains to be seen if that happens or not.
As was the case with Lopina, McLaughlin, and Helleson last season, Anaheim has a number of prospects who could join San Diego towards the end of the season as their college and junior careers come to a close. From the college ranks, I could see any of Jackson LaCombe, Henry Thrun, or Sam Colangelo joining the Gulls. LaCombe and Thrun are seniors and may choose to not sign with the Ducks and become free agents in August. Colangelo will be a junior, and if he has another big season, he could be ready to leave college and turn pro. The NCAA Tournament usually finishes in early to mid-April. So if any of these players have teams that make the Frozen Four, they could still join the Gulls for the playoff push or during the Calder Cup Playoffs, if not sooner.
From the Canadian junior ranks, I could see any of Gage Alexander, Sean Tschigerl, Sasha Pastujov, Olen Zellweger, or Tyson Hinds joining San Diego. Alexander and Tschigerl are currently not signed with Anaheim and likely will be before they join the Gulls. Pastujov, Zellweger, and Hinds are all already signed to their entry-level contracts. These five players will only be able to join the Gulls if their junior season ends early enough, which is what happened with Zellweger last year when he joined the Gulls for one of their playoff games after his team was upset in the first round of the WHL playoffs. The Memorial Cup Tournament is usually played in late May, so if any of these players make it that far, they will not be joining San Diego. If their seasons end earlier, though, then they could.
The Gulls season is right around the corner, and this should be an exciting team. San Diego has a nice mix of young talent and AHL veterans. While I don’t expect them to be the top team in the AHL regular season, I do expect them to be in the Calder Cup Playoffs and make some noise once they get there.
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October 13th, 2022