Copp yet to hit stride with Red Wings
Former Jet still adjusting to new surroundings
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DETROIT — There’s still plenty of grass here in southwestern Michigan, despite being smack-dab in the middle of winter, but it hasn’t necessarily been greener for former Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp, who is still adjusting to life in his new hockey home.
The Ann Arbor product is off to a sluggish start after signing a lucrative five-year, US$28.125 million contract last summer. Copp, 28, had just three goals through his first 38 games with the Detroit Red Wings (along with 18 assists), a far cry from the career-best 21 he scored last year split between Winnipeg and the New York Rangers.
“I haven’t really felt like myself until the last couple weeks,” Copp admitted Tuesday morning, prior to facing the team that drafted him in the fourth round, 104th-overall, in 2013.
Off-season abdominal surgery that caused him to miss all of training camp, including exhibition games, certainly didn’t help the cause. And Copp admits getting a long-term deal, rather than the short-term “prove yourself” ones he’d been playing on, led to a mental adjustment.
“I think the contract stuff was an easy chip to put on my shoulder, especially going through arbitration (with the Jets) and all of that. I’ve moved on from that, I think, but you still gotta play like you have something to prove every night,” he said.
“Coming back off the injury. I don’t know if it was doing too much, but kind of trying to live up to (expectations). I’ve kind of settled into, ‘That’s the past, just worry about being yourself,’ but you gotta have the daily basis of proving yourself over and over again. You’re never really arrived. For example, right now I’m not on the power play. I had 60 points last year, basically. Now I’m trying to prove that again. It’s always evolving.”
Detroit rookie coach Derek Lalonde is starting to see signs of the player he felt the organization was getting, one who competes at both ends of the rink.
“I don’t think people appreciate enough, (with having) core surgery, he missed his entire camp. He didn’t look like the same athlete. Now you’re seeing him win those 50-50’s, he’s got some pop to his game now, you can just see the confidence,” said Lalonde.
“(His play) probably reflected our team. There were some ups and downs with his play. Another tough thing and I don’t think he would ever shy away from it, we ask a ton of him. So, he’s been good, but a great addition. It looks like it’s going to keep going (up) for Andrew. Obviously, a very nice piece.”
Copp essentially priced himself out of salary-cap strapped Winnipeg, as the Jets moved the pending unrestricted free agent to the Rangers at the trade deadline for a package which included Morgan Barron, a first-round draft pick (that turned into Brad Lambert) and a second-round pick (defenceman Elias Salomonsson). The steep price seemed to pay off for New York, which went to the Eastern Conference Final before falling to the two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Then Copp, with a chance to test the open market for the first tine in his career, balked at extending his Broadway audition and signed with his hometown Red Wings.
“One of the most cerebral players I’ve dealt with,” said Lalonde. “I go no further than the July 1 recruiting call I made as a new coach. He was considering Detroit and he’s like, ‘Are you going to run the 1-1-3 like you did in Tampa? Because that beat us in the conference finals. Are you going to run the pushdown, aggressive trap penalty-kill like you did in Tampa because I love it and I want to be part of it.” It just felt like I was talking to a coach.”
Copp expected some growing pains in Detroit, with a young, re-building team not unlike the one he first joined in Winnipeg. He got the chance to catch up with some old teammates on Monday night, as eight members of the Jets met him and Red Wings defenceman Ben Chiarot for dinner.
“It was fantastic, great meal. It was really nice to be able to see Andrew,” said close friend Mark Scheifele.
One gets the sense at least a part of Copp wonders what might have been had he remained with the Jets, especially now that they’re off to such a sizzling start under new head coach Rick Bowness,
“I talk to them pretty regularly. Things are going good. It was a very happy mood (Monday) night that they were in,” said Copp. “I don’t know if that was to see me, or because of the record, or what.”
Copp, a true student of the game, was asked for his scouting report on what seems to have changed.
“I know Josh Morrissey is having a heck of a year. They still have the same offensive firepower, it seems like they’ve been able to play defensively a little tighter, and I know (Connor Hellebuyck) has had a great year so far,” he said.
“On paper, you look at it and you say you lost me and Stas (Paul Stastny), they added some players — more depth players. I’d say I’m not surprised because I know the talent in the room, but at the same time for them to put it together and how quickly they have from last year, I’d say that’s been a little surprising. It’s not surprising that they’ve done well, but maybe a little surprising how well they’ve done. It speaks to how talented the room is. When they put it all together, it clicks.”
Scheifele said there are certainly no hard feelings about the parting of ways, which is just part of the business side of sports.
“I was very happy for him. He got rewarded for all the hard work he’s put in over the years. Going to arbitration, grinding it out over two-year deals. To get a longer term deal in his hometown, I felt like a proud dad when he signed that deal,” said Scheifele.
“It’s one of those stories that you put in all the hard work, I saw first-hand how much he did away from the rink preparing for games and never really got his break. Now he finally did. That was something I was happy to see for him. It’s good to see one of your best friends do well.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.