Andrew Copp returns to Winnipeg as one of Red Wings’ leaders, most consistent players

Detroit News

Detroit — Andrew Copp has already been through the experience of facing the Winnipeg Jets, the team that drafted him and he was a mainstay on for seven seasons.

But that was facing the Jets while he was part of the New York Rangers, who acquired Copp during at last season’s trade deadline. Then this season, Winnipeg came to Little Caesars Arena.

But this time on Friday, the Red Wings will be in Winnipeg and Copp will be there for the first time in an opposing uniform.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Copp, who feels some of the edge has already disappeared facing his former teammates twice. “In Winnipeg it will be weird though. Just being in the building and coming out of the visitor entrance instead of the home entrance, it’ll be interesting.”

Copp was a 2013 fourth-round pick out of Michigan by the Jets, and he evolved into one of their most consistent and dependable players.

When general manager Steve Yzerman signed Copp to a five-year contract worth $28.125 million ($5.625 million per salary cap hit) last summer on the first day of free agency, Yzerman was looking for a two-way center who could be depended on to fill a long-standing hole in the Wings lineup.

Coach Derek Lalonde feels Copp has ably done the job asked of him — and the Wings ask a lot of Copp, using him in a variety of situations and roles.

“I’ve been very happy,” Lalonde said. “When you look at Andrew’s season, he’ll be hard on himself because the offensive numbers aren’t there (40 points this season, 53 last season) but he’s been very productive, a very good player. Some nights he’s our No. 1 center depending on the matchup. We’ve asked a ton of him and his underlying numbers will be very good, the expected goals for and against. He’s been real good.

“He’s hard on himself and he feels the way we’re built, and especially now we’ve been depleted with the injuries and trade deadline, he feels a bit of pressure to produce offense. But I don’t think that’s what Steve signed him for. He’s been a real good player.

“We’re very happy with him.”

The plus-minus rating can sometimes be archaic in today’s dizzying array of metrics and statistics, but it can also deliver a powerful statement.

Copp, while playing often against the other team’s best lines and facing some of the NHL’s best players, was the Wings’ lone regular forward who was a plus player going into Thursday’s game, with a plus-three rating.

That resonated with Lalonde.

“We’re a .500 team and a minus goal-differential, and he gets the top assignment mostly every night and he’s a plus player,” Lalonde said. “That bodes very well for our core going forward.”

Copp’s competitiveness and mental toughness, maybe partially from his quarterbacking days at Ann Arbor Skyline, have also largely helped this Wings roster since the trade deadline. The Wings could have packed in the season mentally, but veterans such as Copp haven’t let them do so.

“The Pittsburgh win (Tuesday) was a real good win, and again in today’s NHL, anybody can win on a given night,” Lalonde said. “But when you put up Pittsburgh’s roster next to our roster, we had no right winning that game. But it’s a credit that guys are still staying competitive and it’s going to have to look that way.”

Ice chips

Lalonde paired Simon Edvinsson with veteran Ben Chiarot, who returned to the lineup Thursday, on defense. Lalonde wanted to see Edvinsson, just recalled to the NHL in the last couple weeks, against a quality opponent such as Carolina.

“Any competition really, but (Thursday) they are the No. 1 forechecking team in any hunt-the-puck analytics out there,” Lalonde said. “It’s going to be a real good challenge.”

… Goaltender Ville Husso (lower body) continued getting some work in, but Lalonde confirmed Husso will not play this weekend. Husso will be considered day-to-day once next week arrives.

… Copp, incidentally, isn’t surprised the Jets are holding down a wild card spot in the West after missing the playoffs last season and turning over personnel.

“The core group is the exact same,” Copp said. “They still have the same offensive firepower. I’d say I’m not surprised because I know the talent in the room.”

Red Wings at Jets

▶ Faceoff: 8 p.m. Friday, Canada Life Centre, Winnipeg

▶ TV/radio: BSD-extra/97.1

▶ Outlook: The Jets (41-31-3) are clinging to that second and final wild card spot in the West. The Wings won the game between the teams earlier this season. Shelby Township’s LW Kyle Connor (28 goals, 75 points) and Commerce Township’s G Connor Hellebuyck (32-24-2, .917 SVS) pace the Jets.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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