Speaking with Andrew Copp, you would be forgiven for assuming he's a grizzled NHL veteran or at the very least a longtime coach. He speaks with a confidence and assuredness well beyond his 19 years, tossing out hard-won aphorisms -- "Consistency will come if your effort where it needs to be" -- as if they were afterthoughts.
With this maturity in mind, it's easy to see why University of Michigan coach Red Berenson named Copp, a sophomore, an alternate captain over the summer. Berenson described his sophomore center as a "gamer," a "team player" and, appropriately, someone with a "coach-type mentality."
Copp (6-foot-1, 201 pounds) has spent the fall earning his 'A' with nine goals and five assists on a Wolverines team that is 10-4-2 and ranked third in the nation. Copp also has two overtime winners, and his leadership has helped Michigan prevail in seven of nine one-goal games despite playing eight freshmen on a regular basis.
"For me it was an easy choice," Berenson said of the decision to give Copp an 'A.' "It was a stretch for some people, but for me it was an easy choice. And I would say he's more than lived up to it. He's not only doing it off the ice, he's doing it on the ice."
Copp's growth on and off the ice caught the eye of the U.S. national program. Two years ago, Copp was a fourth-line grinder with the U.S. National Team Development Program based in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. This year after being included on the preliminary roster prior to the 2014 World Junior Championship, general manager Jim Johannson named Copp an alternate captain on Dec. 22.
For Copp, the U.S. alternate captaincy was the culmination of an unforgettable calendar year.
After struggling in a similar fourth-line role early in his freshman campaign, Copp got better minutes in early January and immediately started scoring. He had 19 of his 21 points in his final 22 games, finished the season as the top-line center and was named to the CCHA All-Tournament team.
"It was a combination of confidence and you just start playing instead of thinking," Copp said, downplaying his remarkable transformation.
Berenson was more effusive.
"[At the beginning] he seemed to work his way into the lineup week after week, just with his work ethic and trying to do the right thing," Berenson said. "He was on the right side of the puck defensively, he played physical and he played smart. And then in the second half, he started to get some offensive confidence. … Once he started to get some breaks offensively, you could just see his confidence with the puck grow."
On June 30, Copp was taken in the fourth round (No. 114) of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets. A few weeks later, he joined longtime friend and college teammate Jacob Trouba and 41 other Jets prospects at development camp, where Copp got his first taste of professional hockey.
Jets coordinator of player development Jimmy Roy said Copp stood out at camp for his work ethic and his focus.
"There's certain things about certain kids that want to be a pro, that want to play professional hockey," Roy said. "You know they're still having fun, but you can see that they want to be a player. He's one of those kids."
Despite rounding into a big-game player with a bright future, Copp's path has been paved with setbacks. A record-setting quarterback for his Skyline High School football team, Copp sustained a broken collarbone late in his senior season. The injury caused him to miss part of the 2011-12 season with the USNTDP, which Copp had joined during the prior season.
Copp used his prodigious work rate to rehabilitate quickly and capped his abbreviated senior campaign with a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. Still, his two-sport stardom kept him from focusing exclusively on hockey, and with only a limited role with the program, he was passed over in his first year of draft eligibility in 2012.
"My under-18 year, I came into the U.S. program and they needed a shut-down, fourth-line faceoff/penalty kill guy," Copp told NHL.com in August. "That's all I needed to be for them and that's what I was, and I thought I was pretty good at it. At the same time, that's not what's going to get you drafted. I didn't do enough to impress."
Copp may not have impressed many NHL scouts, but he did have an effect on Berenson and the Wolverines. On May 10, 2012, Copp accepted a scholarship offer to play college hockey a few miles from where he grew up.
Joining him at Michigan was Trouba. The two grew up about an hour apart and built a strong bond during five years of youth hockey, another two with the U.S. program and one year at Michigan. Trouba is now a regular in Winnipeg after being named a first-team All-America as a freshman for the Wolverines.
This season marks the first Copp and Trouba have spent apart in eight years; however, they may be reunited sooner rather than later if Copp keeps his current pace.
"I can't seem to get rid of the kid," Copp deadpanned, before getting serious about the possibility of the two reuniting in Winnipeg.
"We've always been very close off the ice but on the ice, it's war and we're very competitive in practice, so I feel like soon I'm going to have to start one-upping him a bit. But his success it's good, I'm really happy for him, and hopefully I can put my stamp there one day."