There have long been expectations for Ivan Lodnia to get to the pro ranks in North America and now, just when it seemed like he was finally there, it may already be over for the young forward. Lodnia, in the fifth year of his entry-level contract but just the first in which he had planned to play within the Minnesota Wild organization, has been suspended indefinitely. Lodnia opted not to report to the ECHL’s Iowa Heartlanders after failing to earn a roster spot with the AHL’s Iowa Wild. The Athletic’s Michael Russo reports that the team has in turn informed Lodnia’s agent that he is on unpaid suspension until he agrees to play in the ECHL – or until the two sides decide on a mutual contract termination.
Lodnia, 22, was once a well-regarded prospect for the Wild, but that status is now in doubt. A 2017 third-round pick, Lodnia had the rare development path of playing for both the U.S. National Team Development Program and in the Canadian major junior ranks with the OHL’s Erie Otters and Niagara Ice Dogs. Lodnia signed his entry-level deal in the same year that he was drafted and proceeded to play at a near point-per-game pace in the OHL that season and even earn some AHL action on an amateur tryout with Iowa. Following a move to Niagara, he succeeded in topping a point-per-game pace in his final two junior seasons. The young forward looked primed to get his start in the AHL last season, but due to the delay in the start of the season he instead was playing in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk and the Wild opted to leave him on loan with the club through the 2020-21 campaign. Lodnia managed only seven points in 27 games with Minsk, but it was it his first pro experience.
One can understand why Lodnia might be confused and frustrated with his current situation. A young forward with strong junior numbers, solid draft pedigree, and pro experience who the team once valued so much that they signed him almost immediately drafting him: why is he not getting a chance in the AHL? While Lodnia does not seem like the caliber of prospect that should be in the ECHL, ultimately it is his job to play where the Wild ask him to play. After a season spent overseas seeing minimal ice time, Minnesota may want him to play top line minutes in the ECHL rather than a depth role in the AHL. The team may also be concerned about him even getting into the Iowa lineup with a full set of a dozen forwards signed to NHL deals who are also currently assigned to the AHL. Not only that, but Iowa’s current forward corps boasts a number of top prospects as well as seasoned veterans. Lodnia may simply be the odd man out right now.
Whatever the reasons, Minnesota has the right to assign their prospects where they see fit and to suspend them if they do not report. Per Russo, Lodnia is currently at home and still debating whether he will report to Iowa City or not and will remain suspended until there is a shift in the status quo. If no resolution can be reached, Lodnia’s contract could be terminated, making him a free agent. It’s an interesting possibility given that, on paper, he still looks like a good prospect and may not be the typical clean waive-and-terminate if other NHL teams are interested. However, Lodnia’s insistence on playing where he wants and not where the team needs him could be a turn off to rival clubs. With KHL experience already on his resume, perhaps a termination could lead to a return to Europe like so many do, though it would be a disappointing result for a long path toward NHL relevance for Lodnia.