HELSINKI — Andrew Copp is back to being a centre of attention.
The fourth-year Winnipeg Jets forward will, in all likelihood, be the fourth-line middle man Thursday night between wingers Jack Roslovic and Brendan Lemieux. The trio worked out that way Tuesday during a morning practice at Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena.
Copp landed on the line the other night in Toronto when head coach Paul Maurice flipped him with Patrik Laine. But Roslovic was the centre and Copp was on right wing.
It’s a return to a familiar position for the 24-year-old from Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It will be good. We’re not going to go the rest of the year with everyone being healthy. It’s just like riding a bike. It was something that I knew was going to happen at some point,” said Copp, who has played plenty of centre in Winnipeg.
“This is the point (of the season) where you’re going to see some mixing and matching a little bit, based on when we’re away and when we’re home and all of that. It will be interesting, but I’m really comfortable in the middle.”
The change comes at an interesting time for the Jets. The trio of Copp with centre Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev looked like it was marked down on Maurice’s notepad in indelible ink.
But it’s clearly an effort to get Laine’s mojo back. He’s been up and down the lineup and hasn’t quite found the chemistry the organization and fan base is hoping to witness.
“It happened last year, I put Patty out with Lowry’s line and I liked it. And you’re saying it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Maurice explained. “You’ve got this shooter with two grinders. But when you take a look at the offensive-zone time, Lowry and Tanev get a tremendous amount. And it was the one thing with (Bryan) Little, (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Laine, they didn’t have the offensive-zone time.
“Patty needs it. The rush is one thing, but this is a real fast game (and) he needs zone time. So, we’ll watch it, let it develop and see what happens.”
Copp said there’s a comfort level with Roslovic, as the pair played with centre Little at times during the post-season last year. He’s also getting a kick out of running drills with the always-vocal Lemieux.
“I’ve had some time with him before and he’s a straight-line guy, he’s going to be tough in the corners and win battles. And I just have to make sure I’m talking to him as we’re coming up the ice,” said Copp. “He needs to shut up sometimes, to be honest with you (laughs) but he’s that rah-rah type guy. He’s always in the mix and that’s his personality on and off the ice, he doesn’t change.”
Credit an unnamed Finnish reporter with the finest question posed to Maurice during the Jets head coach’s press conference following Tuesday practice.
Scrap that. Best question to PoMo all season, to date.
He’d just been asked to compare the undisputed stars of the week, Jets winger Patrik Laine and Florida Panthers centre Aleksander Barkov, both back in the homeland for the two-game set. Maurice balked initially before giving an astute response.
Then this oddball inquiry came from the floor: “(You) don’t want to compare them, but do you expect Laine to show Barkov who’s the daddy here in Finland?”
Maurice nearly spit out his water.
“Whoa, welcome to Europe. I never get asked a question like that,” he said, to the chuckling gallery. “First of all, I’m not even sure that that means. I’m old.
“Uhmm, I think it will be a great contest.”
It’s no secret Laine and Barkov are close friends. Both hail from Tampere, about 180 kilometres north of Helsinki, although the Florida star is three years Laine’s senior.
The two have openly traded barbs since the NHL Global Series was announced in January, yet the admiration comes through loud and clear.
“He’s not a shy guy. He’s a really funny guy. I don’t know if he’s that funny in English. I’m not sure because I don’t talk English to him. But he’s a really funny guy in Finnish,” Laine said.
“He’s an amazing player, it will be great to play against him and hopefully, he enjoys this moment just as much as me.”
Bob Bougher wasn’t a pupil of Jets head coach Maurice for long, but the short relationship was meaningful.
The Panthers bench boss spent parts of 10 years patrolling the blue line with six different organizations from 1995-2006, stamping his time card in 630 career games.
He suited up for 43 during the 2003-04 season with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Maurice was behind the bench.
“I love Paul’s personality and I love how he handles the room. He’s got some of the best sarcasm I’ve ever heard as a coach in front of the players,” Boughner said Tuesday. “He’s a players’ coach. “His teams play hard for him, they always have. He’s a guy that you want to play for.”
Boughner hung up the blades in 2006 after two years with the Colorado Avalanche and moved straight into head coaching in junior, taking over the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League that fall. He’d spend eight of the next nine winters in Windsor, guiding the squad to a pair of championships, but also worked a year as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets (2010-11). Following two seasons with the San Jose Sharks (2015-17), he was hired to assume Florida’s top post last season.
The Panthers finished 44-30-8 in the Eastern Conference, missing the playoffs by a point.
Some of Maurice’s attributes, indeed, rubbed off, he said.
“If (there’s) anything I take from Paul’s philosophy, he makes it a players’ environment. He’s hard when he needs to be hard, but he’s a guy that is easy to play for,” he said.
Laine’s not the only Jets winger with pro snipes in Finland.
Mathieu Perreault played seven games for HIFK Helsinki of the Finnish SM-Liiga during the NHL lockout in 2012, scoring once and adding six assists.
He was just getting settled in with his new Nordic lifestyle over the holiday season when the stalemate was resolved and he was back with the Washington Capitals just a few days into the new year.
Does he remember much about his short stint in Europe?
“They had black and yellow jerseys. We lost to them, which was kind of embarrassing at the time. Well, the guys were making it sound like we shouldn’t be losing to that team, anyway,” Perreault said, of a particular opponent.
“I feel like we might have bused there. I remember going up there and it was even darker. So those are the kind of memories. It was seven games over three weeks.”
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Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).