NHL Draft: UMass hockey has strong crop of available prospects

  • Defenseman Ryan Ufko will round out UMass hockey's 10-man recruiting class for the 2021-22 season. COURTESY UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Josh Lopina, left, hopes to be selected by an NHL team in this weekend’s entry draft. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2021 8:14:23 PM
Modified: 7/22/2021 8:14:32 PM

Josh Lopina was a blip on scouts’ radar before last year’s NHL Entry Draft. After a strong freshman season at UMass, where he was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Year, the Minooka, Ill., native is ranked 129th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and has a chance to be part of a potentially historic NHL draft class for the Minutemen.

“Last year was huge to help put me in this position. I give a lot of credit to my team and my coaches and my linemates,” Lopina said. “Team success breeds individual success.”

UMass won the program’s first national championship in April, and the successful year should continue with the draft, which begins at 8 p.m. Friday on ESPN2 for the first round. The second through seventh rounds begin at 11 a.m. Saturday. At least one Minuteman has been selected in the past four drafts. There were four draft picks on last year’s title-winning squad, so Lopina had plenty of avenues for advice and support.

“Playing in this team last year, I got close with those guys and I know I can reach out to them if I have any questions,” he said.

Lopina had nine goals and 14 assists last season and won 54.5 percent of his face offs.

“I think Lopina’s going to be a surprisingly high draft pick. He was eligible to be drafted the year before but nobody had any interest in him,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “It’s a strong statement about Josh and a strong statement about our program.”

Lopina is one of six UMass players or commits ranked by NHL Central Scouting. The Minutemen have never seen more than five players picked in a single draft, and that was in 1994 when there were 11 rounds. Since the draft went to its current seven-round format in 2005, multiple UMass players have been selected in five drafts. Four Minutemen were selected in that 2005 draft, a mark that could be matched this weekend.

“These kids put in so much time ands sacrifice so much,” Carvel said. “To have that day they’re selected is a special day, almost as special as if they sign a contract if they’re lucky enough to do that.”

Commit Scott Morrow leads the potential UMass draftees ranked No. 39 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. The Shattuck St. Mary’s product has also played in the USHL for the Fargo Force and Youngstown Phantoms.

Some scouting services rank him as high as No. 23 or as low as No. 80.

“I’ve had a lot of confidence in myself and the work I’ve done to get to this point,” said Morrow, an 18-year-old Darien, Conn., native. “But I know this is just the beginning.”

Fellow Class of 2021 defenseman Ryan Ufko is right behind him at No. 43 among North American skaters. He won a USHL Clark Cup championship with the Chicago Steel last season and was named a USHL first-team all-star.

Ufko, 18 and from Smithtown, NY, is projected to go between the second and fourth rounds. He came to UMass in part because of the program’s success at sending defensemen to the next level.

“This program and the coaching staff is great and they give you all the resources and support you need to get to the NHL,” Ufko said.

A third defenseman commit, Owen Murray is ranked No. 210 among North American skaters, while incoming goalies Luke Pavicich (No. 16) and Colin Purcell (No. 26) made the goalie list.

Murray played 35 games for the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers last season. Luke Pavicich was a member of the NAHL’s Kenai Brown Bears, while Purcell backstopped the Youngstown Phantoms.

“When they’re good enough to get drafted there’s a good chance they may not last four years, which is fine. When they’re drafted there’s some certainty,” Carvel said. “If they don’t get drafted, they become free agents and you’re dealing with 30 teams telling them they should leave rather than one.”

Among the prospects, Lopina said he was going home to Illinois to watch the draft with his family, while Morrow and Ufko will attend the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Mich. They’ll be among 44 players vying for spots on Team USA for the upcoming World Junior Championships in Alberta, Canada, in January.

At the eight-day camp, the U.S. representatives will be split into two teams and compete against teams from Finland and Sweden.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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