Detroit — The reality began to hit home with forward Andrew Copp several weeks ago when normally he’d begin the moving process to Winnipeg.
The Ann Arbor native would be packing his bags and head to Canada to start the NHL season. But Copp isn’t with the Jets anymore and, for that matter, not with the New York Rangers, where Copp ended last season after being dealt at the trade deadline.
Copp signed a free-agent contract in July with the Wings. So, packing hasn’t been on the agenda.
“It’s a little different,” Copp said Friday. “I haven’t had to pack up everything and go to Canada and get settled there. But it’s been good, the transition is real easy. You know where you’re going, what stores to go to, all that kind of stuff. I’m happy about that. And with family and friends so close, you get that life balance instead of Winnipeg the last couple of years (because of pandemic restrictions at the border).”
Copp, who is recovering from offseason abdominal surgery, was on the ice again for Friday’s morning skate, though he’s not yet ready to play.
The expectation was for Copp to be ready for the regular-season opener on Oct. 14, and there’s optimism that’ll happen. But Copp is being cautious, to make sure he will be ready.
“We’re on the right course,” Copp said. “I wouldn’t say I’m 100% just yet, but I’m getting through some practices with some contact, getting some good reps and seeing rushes, the defensive zone coverage. I feel we’re on a good track. But right now, definitely happy we have another week or two.”
Given Copp’s competitiveness, coach Derek Lalonde joked the staff was going to need to inform Copp again what wearing a non-contact jersey meant. The message was delivered, but Copp wasn’t taking it entirely easy.
“He didn’t put me on a line today so I was the extra guy filling in and that was the message,” Copp said. “There was a little bit of contact today, but you have to get there (full health) somehow, and you have to get a little bit bumping. You don’t want to take a big hit right now, but a little bit of that bumping and absorbing contact is part of the process.”
Lalonde envisions Copp being the type of hard-nosed, two-way center who can anchor either of the top lines depending on what the Wings need in a particular situation.
“In the recruiting process as a free agent, we walked him through how we felt where he would slot in, and it was in that one-two range,” Lalonde said. “There will be games when we’re trying to shut down in the third period and maybe he’s getting those extra minutes. But where we were defensively last year, with all those numbers being toward the bottom of the league in every defensive category, he was the type of signing we wanted to solidify in those areas.
“Throughout his career, he’s been committed to a two-way game and he’ll drive everyone else into the fight. He’s going to be responsible, above pucks, heavy in the defensive zone, than some centers in the past. We need him in the lineup to win and what we’re trying to accomplish in trying to improve our team defense.”
Making an impression
Forward Adam Erne appears to be in a battle for playing time, but he certainly made a positive case for himself Wednesday with a two-goal game in the preseason loss to Chicago.
Erne feels the competition for playing time and roster spots will make the entire lineup better.
“Healthy competition brings out the best in everybody,” Erne said. “Every day you show up and try to make a good impression and not really leave anything to chance, and force yourself into a spot.”
Erne had six goals last season, down from 11 the season before. There’s a simple recipe Erne feels to rebounding.
“Playing with confidence, with the puck on my stick and go to the dirty areas putting myself in position to score,” Erne said.
Erne and Lalonde were together in Tampa for two years when Erne played for the Lightning and Lalonde was an assistant coach. Lalonde is looking for a tough-minded, overall game from the bruising forward.
“Assertive with his game, confidence, and he’s doing that. He played well and got what he deserved (Wednesday) with the two goals,” Lalonde said. “He’s had a good camp. He was noticeable in Traverse City and he played well (Wednesday).”
Lalonde’s family, who will stay in Florida during this season while Lalonde is in Detroit by himself, arrived in Michigan as Hurricane Ian descended on the Gulf Coast.
Lalonde was thankful his family is with him, and their property in Florida was spared.
“That’s some tough visuals, but my family living in south Tampa, we missed most of it,” Lalonde said. “Knock on wood those were some scary moments, but all is good at least for the Lalonde family in Tampa.”
Red Wings at Blackhawks
Faceoff: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, United Center, Chicago
Outlook: The Red Wings visit Chicago in Game 4 of the eight-game exhibition season. Chicago defeated the Wings, 4-2, Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena.