Under the playoff lights on Broadway, what Copp once gave the Jets will shine

New York Rangers center Andrew Copp (18) celebrates his goal with K'Andre Miller (79) in overtime during an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings Wednesday, March 30, 2022, in Detroit. The Rangers won 5-4. (Paul Sancya/AP)

WINNIPEG — Andrew Copp has had plenty of time to come to terms with his emotions, but that doesn’t mean a visit from his old friends won’t stir up a few things as he gets ready for puck drop.

As the New York Rangers get set to host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, Copp met with reporters at the practice facility in Tarrytown and made it through the delicate dance, showing enough respect for his old flame while making it abundantly clear how happy he is with his current squeeze.

During a conversation that lasted nearly 10 minutes, Copp was his authentic self, ensuring to mention the friendships and relationships built over the years and confessing that — despite the weeks that have followed since being moved to Broadway just prior to the NHL deadline — it’s still going to be weird lining up against his former teammates at Madison Square Garden.

There will be time to catch up with a few folks at dinner on Monday night after the Jets arrive in New York after suffering a pair of blowout losses in Florida and Copp was clearly looking forward to that.

But the walk down memory lane is something best left for the offseason and Copp is focusing on the task at hand, which is to try and help the Rangers finish off these final six games of the regular season and prepare for what could potentially be a lengthy playoff run.

In the short term the Rangers are locked in a battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division with the Carolina Hurricanes, dead even with 104 points.

Monday was not the time to open up the old wound about Copp not getting is wish and signing a long-term deal last summer, something he brought up in his unofficial goodbye in Winnipeg last month — one that included him publicly saying he had been looking to put down roots and doing some house hunting before the Jets shifted their priority to bolstering the defence corps.

Copp’s had plenty of time to move on from that, though he’s got a long memory and was genuine in his desire to be another core piece that signed in Winnipeg for the long term, especially after watching his role expand and taking on an important piece of the leadership group.

Never mind the debate about whether Copp was best suited to play on one of the top two lines or not.

He’s always been the type of guy whose value stretches well beyond the raw numbers because of his defensive awareness, his versatility to play all three forward positions and ability to move smoothly up and down the lineup.

Guys like Copp help teams win when it counts.

Need a guy to go out and try to protect a one-goal lead when the stakes are high?

Need a guy to kill a penalty?

Need a guy to win an important draw?

How about scoring a timely goal or winning a puck battle along the boards when an opposing defenceman is pinching in?

Copp can do all of those things and his smarts allow him to play as adeptly with highly-skilled players as he can when used in more of a checking role.

Fans of the Rangers have seen that first hand, as Copp has been playing on the wing with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin.

That’s a prime opportunity, no doubt about it but Copp is doing his job to show Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant that he can lean on him and won’t have to worry about the production side of things while not cheating the game and ignoring the defensive responsibilities either.

In 13 games since the trade from the Jets, Copp has delivered five goals and 13 points — with 11 of those coming at even strength.

“I definitely think that’s an advantage,” former Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba told reporters in New York on Monday. “He does different things, he thinks different. (Panarin) thinks different than most players too. Copper has the ability to read the game and know where to be, and feed (Panarin) better than most guys I’d say. That’s not always an easy thing to do, but they’ve been playing really well together.”

Copp is obviously enjoying the ride.

Leaving the only professional organization a guy has known can be a scary thing, especially when the move comes late in the season.

It can also be invigorating and having Michigan connections like Trouba and Tyler Motte and even former USNTDP teammate Frank Vatrano has eased the transition process.

On the ice, that’s the easy part.

Going with the flow and being able to adapt to a revolving door of linemates is something Copp got used to — outside of the regular time he spent skating alongside Adam Lowry over the years.

“I can kind of play with whoever in any situation and be successful and make the guys around me better,” said Copp, who is up to 18 goals and 48 points in 69 games this season. “I feel like that’s kind of what’s been my calling card in my career in how I play the game and it’s kind of shown so far.”

The Jets organization as a whole is actually rooting for Copp’s success, first on the personal side of things, but also because of what it could mean in terms of improving draft position.

New York Rangers centre Andrew Copp (18) and left wing Artemi Panarin sandwich Ottawa Senators defencemanErik Brannstrom (26) during the third period on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in New York. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Should the Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference final by winning two rounds this spring, the Jets will see one of the two second-round picks acquired in the trade for Copp turn into a first-rounder in Montreal in July — which was one of the attached conditions back in March, provided Copp also appears in at least half of those playoff games.

Copp wasn’t about to kick sand at the Jets when asked about their tough lot in life, which could include officially being eliminated from the playoff equation as early as Tuesday night.

“Well they’re going to be desperate. There’s six games left and they need to win all six, I believe,” said Copp. “So they’re coming off a tough loss in Tampa. They’re a good team, they’ve got skill up and down the lineup, they’ve got good D, they’ve got a great goalie. They’re not going to go away into the night easily.”

To say the Jets have missed Copp is an understatement, but given how this disappointing season has gone for the team, his departure was basically unavoidable since he was on an expiring contract and the team had failed to live up to its billing as a Stanley Cup contender.

The Jets had several opportunities to make a long-term commitment with Copp over the years, but their priorities to upgrade the roster in other areas or the challenges associated with being a cap-ceiling team always took precedence, so the relationship essentially ran its course.

The Rangers achieved their goal by upgrading their team and Copp’s importance is only likely to rise once the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.

The stakes are high for Copp, as he’s about to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career this summer.

Whether that means staying with the Rangers or auditioning for any of the other 30 clubs that could be in the running for his services, continuing to play well with his new team is the best way to make sure Copp gets the raise and longer-range stability that he will be looking for.

For a guy that’s always been comfortable betting on himself, look for Copp to thrive with the Rangers when the chips are down and for the financial security on his next contract to follow.

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