The Winnipeg Jets have dealt with a revolving door of injuries this season, which has resulted in a fair share of line juggling. Jets head coach Paul Maurice has made adjustments throughout the season and has often relied on the versatility of one player — Andrew Copp.
With Copp’s contract expiring following the 2020-21 season and Seattle’s expansion draft also taking place in 2021, the Jets need to find a way to re-sign and keep Copp.
Copp filed for arbitration in the summer and secured himself a two-year contract earning an average of just over $2 million per season. Jets management will have to open their wallets a bit more to re-sign Copp, and I think they should.
Copp Can Play Anywhere
Copp has played centre and winger this season and has also seen time on every forward line except the first. He started the season as a winger, but with injuries to Bryan Little and more recently Adam Lowry, the Jets moved Copp to centre — he even spent time centring the second line with Blake Wheeler on his wing.
Copp is currently playing on the team’s third line in between Jack Roslovic and Jansen Harkins. Copp’s brought leadership to that line and seems to have brought out the best in both wingers so far.
The third line led the Jets to a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 6, with Copp and Harkins each recording two points. Roslovic and Copp set up Harkins for his first NHL goal, and Copp jammed a loose puck past Jordan Binnington for the game-winner. Since returning from injury on Jan. 9, he has scored the game-winner against the Montreal Canadiens and in both games against the Blues.
Although Copp has played the wing on Lowry’s line for the majority of his career, he’s transitioned to the centre position seamlessly. And he’s winning over 52 percent of his faceoffs this season.
With all the injuries the Jets have faced, Copp has taken on a bigger role. In 48 games this season, he has tallied 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists). With 26 games left in the regular season, it wouldn’t surprise me if Copp sets a new career high in points — he notched 28 points (9 goals, 19 assists) in 2017-18.
Maurice has used Copp in various roles this season and trusts him in key situations when games are tight. Copp is averaging 17:30 of ice time per game, which is four minutes more than he’s played in any season in the NHL.
Jets Struggle Without Copp
On Dec. 17, Copp suffered an upper body injury when he attempted to hit Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes. Copp caught a bit of Staal, but also connected with the boards on the hit, resulting in him missing nine games.
The Jets were sitting somewhat comfortably in a playoff position at the time but went 2-5-2 with Copp out of the lineup. When he returned on Jan. 6, the team was on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
Copp’s first game back was a 3-2 win over the Canadiens — he scored the game-winner. The Jets won in his second game back as well, a 4-3 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Jets played the Leafs a week prior when Copp was injured and lost 6-3. His defensive abilities were on display in the Jets 4-3 win and he helped hold the high-powered Leafs offence to half of what they gave up in the game without him.
With offensive talent filling the top-six forward slots, Copp’s defensive abilities are needed, especially with players like Lowry out of the lineup. Copp’s defensive instincts and ability to drive possession of the puck are just some of his strengths, and the reason he sees a lot of ice time, especially on the penalty kill. A team ranking in the bottom 10 in penalty killing can’t afford to let one of the league’s premier killers go.
Why the Jets Might Lose Copp
The Jets need to re-sign Copp, but they will have to get creative to keep him from becoming a member of Seattle’s expansion team. (from ‘Mock expansion draft: What Seattle’s NHL team might look like and which player each team could lose,’ The Athletic, 01/28/2020)
Teams can protect seven forwards, three defenseman and a goalie or eight players and a goalie from being selected in the 2021 Expansion Draft. The Jets definitely will go with the first option, considering their lack of depth on the back end.
Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers will undoubtedly be five of the seven players the Jets protect, but who should fill the last two forward slots? My picks are Lowry and Copp, depending on if the Jets re-sign the duo or not. This would leave players like Roslovic, Little, Mason Appleton and Mathieu Perreault available to Seattle.
You could argue the offensive talent of Roslovic or Appleton should be prioritized, but when you have a strong top-six forward unit, I would lean toward protecting the defensively strong forwards, like Lowry and Copp, to be able to shut down opposing top lines. On the other hand, Little and Perreault are aging and are prone to injury, which is why I would leave them unprotected.
Whether the Jets protect Copp, or make a trade similar to the Vegas expansion draft where the Golden Knights drafted Chris Thorburn in exchange for some draft picks — general manager Kevin Chevyldayoff needs to make Copp a priority.