Photo: Washington Post
After the Washington Capitals traded goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche at the NHL Draft last June, goaltending was the team’s biggest question mark heading into the season. However, it highlighted the Capitals depth in the crease. In his first full NHL season, goaltender Pheonix Copley posted a record of 16-7-3. The North Pole, Alaska native started 24 games and appeared in 27. In addition, he had a .905 save percentage, a 2.90 goals-against average, and one shutout. NoVa Caps take a look back on how Copley got this far:
The Capitals signed Copley on a two-year entry-level contract on March 20, 2014. The 27-year old was assigned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears, where he recorded a .925 save percentage in 26 games played. After a season with the Bears, Copley played for the Chicago Wolves, the St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate. He played in 37 games and had a save percentage at .909. Copley had three shutouts each with the Bears and the Wolves.
On July 2, 2015, the netminder was traded along with forwarding Troy Brouwer and the Capitals’ third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forward T.J. Oshie. Copley played one game with the Blues, where he played on the ice for 24:26. In his NHL debut, he made five saves in six shots in a 5-0 loss against the Nashville Predators.
Copley was assigned back to the Chicago Wolves for another season. He played 25 games during the Wolves’ 2016-17 run before getting recalled to St. Louis. Despite playing 58:56 on the ice in his only game, Copley and the Blues fell 5-3 to the Winnipeg Jets. The netminder pitched 24 saves in the defeat.
The goaltender was once again traded, but he would return back to Washington instead. On February 27, 2017, Copley and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk headed to the nation’s capital for forward Zach Sanford, forward Brad Malone and the Capitals’ first-round pick in the 2017 Draft. Copley played with Hershey for two seasons totaling 57 games. In his last year with the Bears, he posted a .896 save percentage, 2.91 goals against average, and had two shutouts. The Capitals re-signed Copley on June 28, 2017, to a two-year contract.
It was just two weeks after the Capitals won the Stanley Cup that Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik, who later returned to Washington, were traded to the Colorado Avalanche. This gave the opportunity for Pheonix Copley to shine with the Capitals.
His debut came on October 11 when the Capitals were clashing with the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. It was not the greatest of nights for the Capitals. Washington lost 6-0 for their first regulation loss of the new season. Copley did not play again until three games later when the Florida Panthers were at Capital One Arena on October 19. It was once again a tough night for Copley and company. The Capitals lost 6-5 in a shootout, though Copley made 19 saves on 20 shots after going in.
When goaltenders record an assist on a goal, it is a big deal; especially when it is the first ever career point! On December 6, Copley had the secondary assist on defenseman Matt Niskanen’s goal in the 4-2 victory against the Arizona Coyotes. He sent the puck around the boards to center Travis Boyd. Boyd sped through the offensive zone and passed the puck to Niskanen, who took the shot and scored. Later in the month, Copley had his first career shutout. The Capitals traveled up north to Canadian Tire Centre to face the Ottawa Senators on December 22. The 4-0 victory was a great way to start the holiday break. Copley recorded 35 saves in the shutout victory.
Out of the six games Copley played during January was the 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on January 8, Copley’s only win of the month. The five losses, which included two overtime losses, played a factor in the Capitals’ rough month.
February was looking up for the Capitals, but even more for Copley. On February 3, Washington announced that they re-signed the netminder to a three-year contract worth $3.3 million ($1.1 million AAV).
Despite the 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders in the Capitals’ regular-season finale, Copley ended the year with a .905 save percentage, 2.90 goals against average, 776 saves, and one shutout. He has done well as the backup goaltender this season and has potential to go beyond the limits.
By Della Young