Copp moving to Plan B

Had eye on No. 2 centre, but Stastny changes that

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So, Andrew Copp, you publicly threw down the gauntlet, declaring the Winnipeg Jets’ second-line centre position yours for the taking when last season ended. And how did the team respond? By going out and trading for your old buddy, Paul Stastny, to fill that position.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/12/2020 (598 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

So, Andrew Copp, you publicly threw down the gauntlet, declaring the Winnipeg Jets’ second-line centre position yours for the taking when last season ended. And how did the team respond? By going out and trading for your old buddy, Paul Stastny, to fill that position.

Well that’s a bit awkward, isn’t it? Perhaps. But Copp insisted Tuesday there’s no hard feelings, no angry call to his agent demanding a new hockey home, but rather doubling down on the hard work needed to prove his worth to the only NHL team he’s known.

“I feel like, obviously with the addition of Paul, he’s a great player, a great friend to me, so obviously he’s going to be our second-line centre to start the year, I would assume. But injuries happen, and I want to be prepared to move up in the lineup like I did throughout the year last year. It’s not the end all, be all. I’m just trying to improve my game, become as valuable as possible and get as much ice time as possible and all that,” Copp said Tuesday during a Zoom conference call.

This will be a big season for Andrew Copp, as he’s in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. (Jason Franson / The Canadian Press files)

“At the end of the day, if I’m not helping the team win then that won’t happen. Hopefully I can continue to get better and continue on the trajectory I’ve been on ever since I started my career. I’m just trying to get better every day and try to prove I can play higher up in the lineup and be as valuable as possible.”

Copp certainly is trending in the right direction, with 10 goals and 16 assists in 63 regular-season games last season that had him on the cusp of career offensive highs prior to the pandemic pause in mid-March. He also scored twice in four playoff games against the Calgary Flames.

The 26-year-old Michigan product has primarily been entrenched in a checking line winger role along with centre Adam Lowry, but saw increased time up the middle last year after Bryan Little was felled by a career-ending injury. That opened the door for perhaps more time at centre for Copp, but the reacquisition of Stastny in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights seemed to slam it shut, at least for now.

“I think he’s just a steady, smart hockey player and you can’t have too many of those. I’ve got a lot of respect for his game. I’ve got a lot of respect for what he does off the ice. I’ve got a lot of respect for just the person he is. He’ll provide a lot of that leadership and a lot of that stability in our room, which is always important,” said Copp.

With training camp set to begin Sunday, and the regular season 10 days later, Copp hasn’t had a lot of time to think about what’s to come. That’s because he’s been involved in labour issues as one of 16 players on the players association’s negotiating committee that hammered out terms of the 2021 season during weeks of talks with the league.

It was a repeat performance for Copp, who was part of the NHLPA committee last summer that led to an extension of the collective bargaining agreement.

“There was a lot of calls, a lot of hours put in to trying to figure out everything that has to do with the restart, whether it’s scheduling or health and safety protocols or possible finance changes. There was a lot of hours, a lot of work put in and I’m pretty proud of the way that everything has shaken out for us and really excited to get going again and playing hockey,” said Copp.

He was joined by teammate Mark Scheifele, making the Jets the only team with two representatives.

This will be a big season for Copp, as he’s in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. And he now has a much better understanding of all the factors that go into the business side of the game.

“Obviously, some guys based on their contracts or situations are going to benefit more than others, but it was just kind of the way that it worked best for everyone as a whole. We weren’t too interested in changing that and obviously the landscape next summer could be different, but at the same time, that’ll sort itself out when we get there. I’m just trying to focus on my game and helping the team win and getting going here.”

How does he see his club stacking up against the all-Canadian competition?

“I guess we’re going to find out,” he replied.

“We’ve had some new additions, hopefully some guys continue to take some more steps. Having the Vezina winner (Connor Hellebuyck) in net is always a good place to start, so I mean, it’s going to be a very competitive division. I think you can kind of look at the teams, one through seven, and no matter what way it shakes out, you wouldn’t be overly surprised. Every night it’s going to be a battle.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

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.

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