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Prospect Update: Josh Lopina
By Thomas Harrington
Anaheim’s fourth round pick from 2021, forward Josh Lopina, just completed his first full year of professional hockey. He had joined the Gulls at the end of the 2021-2022 season on an ATO and played in 13 games to give him a taste of what the AHL is like.
Lopina’s rookie season in the AHL saw him play in 59 games and score two goals and four points. He was primarily used in a checking role on San Diego’s third and fourth lines, as well as seeing time on the team’s penalty kill unit. He missed some time with an injury in December. Overall, it was a disappointing season for him after a strong start to his AHL career in his first 13 games.
I had two expectations for Lopina last season, but he only met one of them. He’s not a player known for his offensive ability, but he’s been able to consistently score goals at all previous levels, so I was expecting 10 goals out of him this past season. Instead, he finished with two. Second, I wanted him to play in most of San Diego’s games, and to not be a healthy scratch during the stretch run. He ended up missing only 13 games this past season, which was great to see. He was a healthy scratch some nights, but he was in the lineup consistently towards the end of the season, so he met this expectation.
After a rough first year with the Gulls, I anticipate Lopina spending all of next season in the AHL once again. He won’t be counted on to be one of the team’s top players, and he’ll likely spend much of the season centering the third and fourth lines again. While the Gulls likely need to see a number of lineup changes after last season, it will also be good for the team to have some stability when possible. Lopina can be one of those players fulfilling a similar role as last season, but hopefully putting together a much better season.
For this coming season, I have two expectations for Lopina. First, to appear in more than 60 games with the Gulls. Playing in 59 was great last season, but I’d like to see him take the next step and show that he’s even more valuable to the Gulls by playing in more games. Second, while his offense didn’t translate to the AHL in his first full season with the Gulls, I would like to see him hit at least the 10 point mark. He’s one of several San Diego players whose offensive numbers took a nosedive last season. He’ll likely never be a 50-point player, but 10+ should be well within reach for him.
Lopina is still a number of years away from the NHL. Even if his first season in the AHL had been much more successful, I had thought he might get at most a game or two next season. After a difficult rookie season, I don’t see that happening next season. However, if he can rebound and become a solid player who can play in any situation, there’s a chance we could see him get some time in the NHL in the 2024-2025 season, with a chance at a bigger role in the 2025-2026 season.
Lopina has two years left on his entry-level contract, and he’ll be a restricted free agent when it’s over. A year ago, after he seemingly adjusted so well to the AHL to end the season, I had thought he was definitely going to be re-signed when his contract was over. However, after this past season, that no longer seems so definitive. If he can rebound and have two strong seasons for the Gulls and/or the Ducks, then Lopina will still likely get another deal with Anaheim. However, if his struggles continue over the next two seasons, the Ducks will likely choose to not qualify him and let him leave as a free agent.
The next prospect update will be on defenseman Tyson Hinds.
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August 12th, 2023