So often come NHL Draft season, there are tales of ultra-talented prospects falling down draft boards because of so-called "red flags" that scare away NHL teams. University of Michigan forward, and second-time eligible Andrew Copp is a rare case of a player whose numerous green flags may result in him getting selected much higher than expected.
There are two questions that have to be asked right off the bat when a draft prospect has already been passed over in the draft once before: 1. Why was he not picked last year? and 2. What has he done this year to change that perception?
In Copp's case, he's coming from a fairly unique set of circumstances. Copp is an alum of the US NTDP program. Generally, I'd be very leery of a player coming out of that program that was passed over after being meticulously scouted in his first draft year as all NTDP U18 players are. But Copp wasn't a member of the program in the traditional sense. Because of the way the program is set up, the team keeps a very talented, but somewhat thin roster, since talented young players aren't interested in moving across the country to be a healthy scratch/4th line fill-in most nights. Copp, being a native of Ann Arbor, where the NTDP is housed, was willing to take on that role of a 14th forward for the U18s, while also playing quarterback for his local high school football team. Copp was an outstanding quarterback at Skyline High School, though his final season was cut short when he suffered a broken collarbone, which also caused him to miss a good deal of time on the ice.
In the games he did play with the U18 team last year, he wasn't overly productive, as you'd expect given the ice time he saw with them. He also played a few games with the NTDP U17s late in the year, where he was pretty productive against good competition, though obviously not watched as closely by NHL folks since he was playing with the younger group.
So between the limited playing time and injury, it's easy to see why he was passed over last year. What about the ‘this year' part of the equation? Copp once again stayed close to home, joining the University of Michigan as a near walk-on. For much of the first half of the season, Copp performed about to the level of the relatively low expectations most had for him. After scoring a goal in his first career game against Bentley, Copp would go 13 straight games without scoring another point, mostly alternating between playing on the fourth line and being a healthy scratch.
But around the midway point of the season, things began to click for Copp. He recorded his first multi-point game for Michigan in late December at the Great Lakes Invitational, and from there, finished the year with 19 points in his final 22 games, which included a seven-game scoring streak. The only '94-born player to score more points in college hockey from Christmas onward last year was Wisconsin's Nic Kerdiles, a second round pick of Anaheim last summer. With the scoring increase, Copp saw his ice-time increase as well, eventually working his way up to Michigan's top line by the end of the season. Copp showed good skating ability, plays well in the defensive zone and while he's not a tremendously gifted scorer, he plays a gritty game, and picks up points by being willing to go to the front of the net to make plays.
The concern with second-time eligible players is always going to be that they are further along their development curves than their younger counterparts, but that doesn't appear to be the case with Copp at all. If anything, Copp appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential. His football experience shows that he's a pretty gifted athlete, and the fact that he showed so much potential and improvement in his first full year focusing on hockey is very promising as well.
Another positive for Copp is that he is a very high-character player. In addition to being a leader on the football field as a quarterback, he has been voted an alternate captain at Michigan next season by his teammates, as just a sophomore. While he doesn't necessarily project to being the level of player that would be a team captain, filling a team with players like that is never a bad idea.
There is still a good amount of risk involved, which might steer some teams towards other prospects. In a small enough window, you can make anyone look good, and Copp's strong second half with Michigan may just be a hot streak, rather than an indicator of things to come. And while there have certainly been late-bloomers to make it and succeed in the NHL, those stories are usually few and far between.
Still, a player with the type of athleticism Copp has, combined with the potential he showed in the latter half of the year is a very intriguing proposition. Once some of the more established, safer picks are off the boards in the first two rounds of the draft, Copp would appear to be a great choice to be selected in the third round or later.