With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft now in our rear view mirrors, we will begin breaking-down the last 12 months for each of the Washington Capitals prospects and provide a forecast for the coming season. We begin this series of reports with a review and forecast for Pheonix Copley, who will likely be asked to fill Philipp Grubauer’s skates to start the 2018-2019 season. (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page right here.)
Copley has one year remaining on his contract which will pay him $650,000 for the coming season. Copley will be an Unrestricted Free Agent on July 1st, 2019. Copley is not waivers exempt.
Pheonix Copley was originally signed by the Capitals in 2014 out of Michigan Tech, but was traded with Troy Brouwer to the St. Louis Blues in the T.J. Oshie deal in 2015. Pheonix Copley was re-acquired by the Capitals with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in exchange for forwards Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, the Capitals’ first-round selection in the 2017 NHL draft on Feb. 27, 2017.
Overall in his career, Copley is 0-1 with a 4.32 goals against average and a .829 Save percentage in the NHL and 73-48 with a 2.55 goals against average and a .913 Save percentage in his AHL career.
2017-2018 SEASON SUMMARY
Pheonix Copley (26) split playing time Hershey with Vitek Vanecek (22), playing in 41 games while Vanecek played in 31. Both dealt with significant injuries to start the season. Copley went 15-17-6 with a 2.91 goals against average and a .896 save percentage, on a team which struggled defensively for a majority of the season.
Copley was added to the Capitals roster in time for their historic playoff run, which will only benefit him down the line. He utilized his time facing shots of Caps in and after practice, which also helped Copley.
Folks in Hershey love him, and it’s really hard to judge the level of his game at this point, considering the struggles of the Bears and the Bears defense last season. Development Camp and training camp will be huge for all goalies this summer, but none more so than Phoenix Copley.
2017-2018 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following is a compilation of our month-by-month prospect reports for Pheonix Copley during the 2017-2018 season.
It was a tough start to the Bears 80th Anniversary season, as both Copley and Vanecek were dealing with injuries that kept them out of the lineup. Copley missed all of October, and returned to the lineup November 3rd where he gave up six goals on 36 shots faced against Rochester. Things calmed down quite a bit after that. Copley played in nine games in November.
Pheonix Copley is essentially in a position battle with Vitek Vanecek since Vanecek’s return from injury, as the two split time in between the pipes in December. In 16 games this season he has a 3.26 GAA and a .885 save percentage.
After giving up 26 goals in a six-game stretch from December 1 to December 21, Pheonix Copley has steadied his play. He has surrendered 16 goals in his last eight games. In six of those games, he gave up two goals or fewer. Unfortunately for Copley, his improved play has not translated to wins. He has two wins in that stretch. His best performance came in a 5-1 win over Charlotte on January 6. The Bears were being outshot 19 to nine after two periods, but Copley stopped 18 of the 19 shots and Hershey led 2-1. The Bears scored three times in the third to open the game up. The native of Alaska made 32 saves in the game. That was his last victory. He has been hurt by Hershey’s inability to put the puck in the back of the net. On January 17, he stopped all 18 shots he faced in relief of Vitek Vanecek in Springfield. His play allowed the Bears to rally from a 4-2 deficit to force overtime, but then lost in a shootout. On Saturday, he stopped 13 shots in the first period in Bridgeport to keep his team in the game, but the offense only scored once and Hershey lost 3-1. His GAA has dropped to 2.91 after being 3.26 after December. He has also raised his save percentage from .885 to .891.
Copley’s three-game winning streak came to a halt at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on February 25. He made 22 saves in a 3-2 loss. Copley shined during his winning streak. He stopped all 28 shots he faced and earned his first shutout in a 3-0 win at Bellville. Two days later, Copley stopped 15 shots in the second period and had 27 saves, as the Bears beat the American Hockey League’s best team, the Toronto Marlies, 5-2. Then, he stopped 21 shots as Hershey beat Hartford 4-2 for their fifth straight win. Copley’s goals against average rose slightly to 2.95 from 2.91 this month, but that can be attributed to giving up three goals on five shots against Hartford on February 10. At the same time, his save percentage has risen to .894 from .891. Copley’s play has been fairly steady since December 29.
After a loss to Lehigh Valley in relief on March 2, Copley was solid in his next five starts. He shut out Utica on March 3, making 24 stops in a 3-0 Hershey win. He stopped 33 shots, including 13 in the third period, in a 3-2 shootout loss to Lehigh Valley on March 4. Five days later, Copley turned away 29 Syracuse shots in a 2-1 road victory for the Bears. 12 of those saves came in the second period. He lost his next game to Grand Rapids, surrendering three goals on 23 shots, but he did not have a lot of help from the team in front of him. He made a few quality saves, but defensive mistakes and turnovers cost the Bears. Copley rebounded with 26 saves in a 3-2 win over Bridgeport on March 16. Unfortunately for Copley, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins put six in on him in a 6-4 loss on March 18. That was the last game Copley played for Hershey in March. He was recalled to Washington to serve as Philipp Grubauer’s backup when Braden Holtby nursed an injury. Copley won in his return to Hershey, making 20 saves in a 6-3 win over Laval.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has stated on several occasions that Copley will start the year as Braden Holtby’s backup in Washington. MacLellan added “for now it’s Copley” in an interview following the first round of the draft, which sounded a little less firm on his decision. The plan seams fairly clear. Samsonov needs playing time, so it’s unlikely he would start the season in Washington, but anything can happen in training camp, when a final decision is made. Regardless, Copley’s potential time in Washington will be directly related to Samsonov’s preparation and readiness for the NHL.
Is Copley ready for an NHL crease? Fact of the matter is it’s a big unknown at best. He’s played in just two NHL games, both while with the St. Louis Blues organization. He gave up one goal on just six shots in a relief role during the 2015-2016 season and was shelled in his only NHL game played in the 2016-2017 season for the Blues, giving up five goals on 29 shots. He did make one eye-popping save:
This summer’s development camp and the training camp in September will play huge factors in Copley’s overall career trajectory. His time is now, and he will need to prove it. He is a UFA next summer, so if he doesn’t get it done, his time in the Washington organization could be winding down, considering younger Vanecek and Samsonov waiting in the wings.
By Jon Sorensen