Rarely do Andrew Copp’s assignments gain him attention on the evening TV highlights, but his work receives almost no focus during team video sessions, either.
That’s huge for the third-year Winnipeg Jets forward.
Copp’s offensive numbers aren’t particularly flashy — he’s fired just four goals and added 16 assists while being among only seven skaters to play all 54 games this season for the Jets.
The requirements of his job — and the reality of his skill set — don’t include challenging Patrik Laine for the team goal-scoring lead or transforming into a crafty setup man like Blake Wheeler.
Head coach Paul Maurice values the 6-1, 204-pound Copp as a reliable, defensively aware forward — a guy whose performances since the day he arrived in Winnipeg haven’t required dissection during the usual day-after-game video sessions.
"He was a fourth-line centre (in 2015-16), and those guys usually are not playing with players that can carry them. The centre-ice position can be detailed and there’s lots to learn, and he never made the video. He was just right," Maurice says. "Not a lot of production (from him), and he’s just continued on that path. But he doesn’t make many mistakes.
"We think there’s some offence there, too. But he seems to have embraced the role and understands that you’re not just going out to check a line, you’re going out to play in the other team’s end against their best. So, there’s very little room for risk in that game in how you move the puck.
"A player that wants to put up numbers for that next contract sometimes struggles with that," Maurice says. "(Copp) has embraced it. He’s just a very consistent, conscientious player."
Copp relishes the opportunity to battle other teams’ best lines. Playing left wing with centre Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev, he and his linemates were highly efficient for much of the season — before injuries struck — while charged with shutting down other clubs’ most lethal trios.
Without padding their offensive statistics, their plus-minus numbers continued an upward trend because they simply didn’t allow teams to flash the goal light.
Lowry (upper body) will miss his third straight game tonight, and 11th of the team’s last 13, while Tanev will sit out his second straight (upper body). Copp again shifts to the middle on the Jets’ third line against the St. Louis Blues, with Joel Armia to his right and Kyle Connor to his left.
The 23-year-old product of Ann Arbor, Mich., who sports a plus-12 to share the team lead with defenceman Tyler Myers through two-thirds of the season, says he gets great satisfaction preventing opponents from getting good looks at Winnipeg’s goaltenders.
"Sixteen points and plus-12. That’s tough to do. I take a lot of pride in my defensive game, and am very confident in it. When I get that pairing (with Lowry) and we get Tanev or Armia with us, we can play against any line in the league and be successful. That’s my strength, my defensive game, my hockey IQ and my work on the PK (penalty kill), so I feel like that’s been the standout part of my year, for sure."
There’s a perception Copp is carrying a wider frame this year, although he maintains that’s not really the case. In fact, he was an imposing figure, and even a few pounds heavier, in his final year at the University of Michigan (2014-15).
But he’s increased his strength since turning pro, and as a former high school quarterback — it’s been well-documented Copp got some looks from Division I schools to go the football route — lifting weights has always been part of his regimen.
Copp says he’s always tinkering with ways to play bigger on the ice, and a key to his robust style has been his skating improvement, which would surely please his mother, a figure-skating coach and former competitor.
"I’ve gotten faster, a little more deceptive, which makes it harder for guys to pin me against the wall, especially in the offensive zone. Defensively, I feel really comfortable, especially down low, going against anyone in the corners," he says.
Copp joined Winnipeg for its final regular-season game of the 2014-15 season and picked up his first NHL point when he set up ex-Jet Lee Stempniak’s goal against the Calgary Flames. He cracked the club’s opening-night roster in October 2015, and will play the 197th game of his NHL career tonight
Passed over in his first year of draft eligibility, Copp played his first season with the Wolverines and was selected by the Jets in the fourth round (104th overall) in 2013. He played two more years with Michigan, ending his college career with 81 points (40G, 41A) in 107 games over three seasons.
Copp was the Wolverines’ captain in 2014-15, and earned All-Big-Ten second-team all-star recognition.
Michigan assistant coach Brian Wiseman says watching Copp become an integral part of Winnipeg’s winning formula is no surprise.
"He started out as a fourth-line right-winger for us, and by Christmas he was our No. 1 centre, so that tells you the effort he put in and what we thought of him within two-and-a-half months of him being on campus," Wiseman says. "He was named captain in his junior year, which again speaks volumes to his work ethic, his attitude, being a good teammate, a leader, and someone we could rely on as a coaching staff to carry the messages of what we’re trying to do here with the other guys in the locker room.
"It comes from how motivated Andrew is to being a professional. We saw it during his three years here, and people in Winnipeg are seeing that now in his third year of pro. He’s not only a smart, hard player to play against, he has a lot of skill. He’s turned into a real complete player in my mind, and I still think there’s growth in Andrew’s game to round out some of the offensive side as well."
So, his old coach and current coach are of like mind when it comes to Copp’s potential for increased production, and it’s something he craves as well.
Copp laments his struggles to deposit more pucks in more cages, particularly at a stage in his pro career when he’s receiving more playing time than he’d been accustomed to since he established himself with the Central Division club during the 2015-16 season.
Copp was in the neighbourhood of being a point-per-game player in his last two years with Michigan, so seeing his name on the scoresheet every three or four games still grates on him.
"Man, there’s been a lot of chances that haven’t gone in. I mean Tuesday (in a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes), the last four minutes of the game I get a two-on-one with (Wheeler), then an empty-netter gets tipped away. I’ve hit probably eight posts this year," he says. "That part has been, at times, frustrating.
"That four (goals) number isn’t where I want it to be. It isn’t probably indicative of how many chances I’ve had this year. I feel like there’s been times where I’ve had four Grade-A’s in a game and haven’t been able to bury, so it’s obviously something that I’ve been trying to work on and concentrate on. But at the same time, I can’t be sacrificing defence to create more offence."
Winnipeg centre Mark Scheifele, who returns to the lineup tonight after missing 16 games since Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury, says Copp’s value to the club isn’t measured by his individual stats.
"He’s been playing awesome. He’s a guy that skates so powerfully, I think that’s why he can go wherever. He’s a smart player, he’s got a very high-level IQ. He’s got the body and the skill to match it," said Scheifele, who lives with Copp in Winnipeg. "That’s why he’s able to play centre, he’s able to play wing, he’s able to do it all so well. First off, he works very hard at it, watches lots of film, works on it a lot in practice and in games. That’s what happens with hard work."
For Copp, the last three-plus years have been a whirlwind, and he has a difficult time wrapping his head around the fact his milestone 200th game will occur on this 10-game homestand.
"Where did the time go, honestly?" he says. "Growing up, I wasn’t even thinking NHL, I was just worried about trying to play hockey at Michigan. That was the goal. This is really the cherry on top."