Andrew Copp’s return to Jets’ lineup highlights his underrated importance

Andrew Copp scored in the third period and it held as winner for the Winnipeg Jets over the Montreal Canadiens.

It didn’t take long for Andrew Copp to make an impact on the struggling Winnipeg Jets.

Earlier this week he scored the game-winner against the Montreal Canadiens after pressuring Habs defenceman Cale Fleury into a mistake and capitalizing with a breakaway while fighting off two defenders to beat Carey Price five-hole for the game-winning goal. Not bad for a player just back from a near-three-week injury hiatus.

If the Michigan native’s value to this team was in question before that injury, it shouldn’t be upon his return.

The Jets struggled in Copp’s absence, going 2-5-2 over a nine-game stretch that saw a comfortable perch in the playoffs evaporate. By the time he returned, Winnipeg had fallen below the playoff line.

Worry not. If you’re going to play the hero, it helps to have a little adversity to overcome.

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With Copp back the Jets have now gone 2-0. No reason to raise a banner, but it is the first time the team has won back-to-back games in nearly a month. And those two wins, over Montreal and Toronto, perfectly illustrate the difference Copp makes to the team.

The Jets played both Montreal and Toronto in the stretch Copp sat out. The results: a 6-2 drubbing by the Canadiens before the Christmas break and a 6-3 loss to the Leafs just last week.

But with Copp on the ice, those roaring offences seemed a little meeker as he immediately assumed the role of silencing the opposition’s “heavy lines” (coach Paul Maurice’s term for big, skilled lines).

By now it should be clear the Jets’ Copp-fuelled shut-down line is the team’s secret weapon. Yes, Winnipeg has all kinds of offensive skill, but that didn’t pay the bills when Copp was out. Over that nine-game stretch the Jets’ dynamic duo of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler were clearly back to their offensive best, putting up 13 and 10 points respectively. That added up to just two wins.

Copp’s value alongside centreman Adam Lowry is the ability to match up against, and waste the minutes of, the most dangerous weapons on the opposition’s roster. We call those hard minutes. Copp played over 18 of those hard minutes against the goal-scoring dynamo that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s more minutes-played than Blake Wheeler or Nikolaj Ehlers who often get an easier ride against lesser opponents thanks to the matchups created by this third line.

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And while Copp’s night in Toronto included an uncharacteristic mistake that cost the Jets a goal, his overall body of work contributed to an effort that rendered the John Tavares unit ineffective.

And how about his penalty killing? The Jets’ PK has been atrocious this season. After the Copp injury Winnipeg surrendered a total of nine power play goals, as their penalty kill operated at just 38 per cent and allowed a power play goal in all but one game. Copp has been the first option on the PK in his two games back and the Jets have been a perfect five-for-five and have scored two shorthanded goals in the process.

But maybe Copp’s greatest asset lies in his demeanour. He went through arbitration last summer, an experience he admitted was draining and one he likened to “going to war.” Those moments on the business side of the game can be difficult to keep out of the dressing room. Rather than dwell on that experience, Copp has proven he’s worth every penny, and in all honesty, a lot more than the financial reward he received in the arbitration process.

Clearly Copp is on the road to a bigger payday down the road. That may or may not be with the Jets. But it’s clear they will be the beneficiaries in the meantime.

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