Next up in our annual prospect review and forecast series is Pheonix Copley, goaltender for the Hershey Bears. (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page right here.)
Copley, a 6’-4”, 200 lb. goaltender from North Pole, Alaska, was undrafted. He 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. 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.
Copley opened his career in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) with the Corpus Christi IceRays in 2010-11 season. The IceRays were not a very good team and Copley saw a lot of rubber. He made 1210 saves in 42 games played. His goals-against average, 4.17, and save percentage, .880 were not good, but that was also a product of the team in front of him.
The netminder moved to the United States Hockey League (USHL) for the 2011-12 season. He began the campaign with the Tri-City Storm. Copley played in 25 games, posting a 9-13 record. His overall numbers were not terrible and he recorded two shutouts while having a .905 save percentage. He then moved on to the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL and saw action in 20 games while in Iowa. His record did not improve with the Buccaneers, but his save percentage was upped to .909 and his goals-against average dropped to 3.09.
Copley committed to play collegiately at Michigan Tech and spent the next two seasons with the Huskies. As a freshman in 2012-13, Copley played 24 games and ended with a record of 8-15-1. Those eight wins were the most on the team, as Michigan Tech won just 13 games that season. He also registered three shutouts during the season.
Copley’s numbers improved during his sophomore season in 2013-14. His goals-against average dropped to 2.51 from 3.22. Copley raised his save percentage from .900 to .911. He was responsible for 13 of the team’s 14 wins.
Following his sophomore season, Copley turned pro and signed as a free agent with the Washington Capitals organization. He played three games for the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL, going 2-1 with a .906 save percentage.
The Capitals assigned Copley to Hershey for his first full professional season in 2014-15. In 26 games, Copley went 17-4 with three shutouts. His 2.17 goals-against average was the seventh best in the AHL that season. He had a .925 save percentage, also seventh in the league. The Alaskan teamed with Philipp Grubauer as the Bears surrendered the fourth fewest goals in the regular season, 181. The tandem led Hershey to a 100–point season and an East Division title. In the Calder Cup playoffs, Copley went 3-1 with a 1.46 goals-against average.
Copley’s rookie season caught the eye of other teams around the NHL and he was ultimately traded to the St. Louis Blues as part of the trade package that brought T.J. Oshie to Washington. He spent the 2015-16 season with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL and compiled a 15-16-3 record with three shutouts. During the season, Copley made his NHL debut, coming in relief in a St. Louis loss to Nashville on February 27, 2016.
Returning to the Wolves for the star of the 2016-17 season, Copley’s numbers improved. He went 15-6-2 in 25 games and raised his save percentage to .922 (was .900 the previous season). His goals against average fell to 2.31 from 2.50. The Blues gave Copley his first career NHL start on January 21, 2017 against the Winnipeg Jets.
At the trade deadline, Copley returned to the Washington organization in the deal that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals. He finished out the season in Hershey, playing in 16 games down the stretch. He won 11 of those appearances with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. Copley then went 5-4 in the Calder Cup playoffs while putting up a solid .933 save percentage and 2.15 goals-against average.
Copley was back in Chocolate Town for the 2017-18 season. The campaign was a nightmare for Hershey. The team suffered through their worst season in 25 years. The Bears finished in last place in the Atlantic Division with 69 points and ended 26 points out of the final playoff spot. Looking at his numbers, it looked like a down season for the Michigan Tech product. He had a record of 15-17-4 and his goals-against of 2.91 was the highest of his career. In actuality, he played better than his numbers indicated. Copley and goalie partner Vitek Vanecek were given little help by the team in front of them and the struggles of the team had a lot to do with the down numbers.
The 2018-19 season was a breakthrough for Copley. He spent the entire season in the NHL with the Capitals, serving as Braden Holtby’s backup. He recorded his first NHL victory on October 27, 2018, in a 4–3 shootout win over the Calgary Flames. On the season, Copley won 16 games in 27 appearances. He had one shutout and had a save percentage of .905.
Copley became a victim of Washington’s salary cap issues and returned to Hershey for the 2019-20 season. He teamed with Vanecek to give the Bears one of the top goalie tandems in the AHL. He played in 31 games for the Bears. He earned 17 victories during and recorded two shutouts. He ended the season with a 2.47 goals–against average which was 10th in the AHL. He posted a .905 save percentage.
The 2021 season was a unusual one for Copley. He split time between the Washington taxi squad and Hershey. With the Bears, he had an up-and-down campaign. He stared out strong in his first two starts, but then struggled in his next three starts. Copley then fired off six straight wins from March 24 through April 21. He finished his season by going 2-2, ending the season on a high note with a 34 save, shutout over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on May 8. Copley concluded the season with a record of 10-4-1 with two shutouts. He combined with Zach Fucale to earn the Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award given annually to the goalies who give up the fewest goals in the AHL.
2020-21 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following is a compilation of our month-by-month prospect reports for Pheonix Copley for the 2020-21 season. (You can find all of our monthly prospect reports on our “Prospects” page in the top menu).
Copley attended Capitals training camp beginning on January 3. He was placed on waivers on January 11 as part of the Capitals’ roster-trimming necessary to meet the 23-player roster limit, required for all teams by 5:00 PM, January 12. Copley cleared waivers and was officially added to the Capitals’ taxi squad on January 13.
Copley was on a bit of a yo-yo between Hershey and the Washington taxi squad. He started the first two games of the season for the Bears and was a hard luck loser in the season opener versus Lehigh Valley. He had a shutout until the last minute when Lehigh Valley tied it after a lost faceoff. Copley stopped four quality scoring chances in overtime before Lehigh Valley scored the game winner.
In his second start, Copley picked up his first win of the season. He made 22 saves in a 3-2 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on February 11. He then went back to the Washington taxi squad and remained there before returning to Hershey for the February 27 game against Binghamton. He served as Zach Fucale’s backup for the game. He had a 1.97 goals against average and a .920 save percentage on the season.
It was not a good start to the month of March for Copley. He surrendered four goals on 19 shots in a 4-3 loss to Lehigh Valley on March 3. He won his next start against Binghamton on March 7, despite giving up three goals in a game where the Hershey penalty kill struggled. His next time in net was a disaster for Copley and the Bears. The entire team broke down after jumping out to a 4-1 lead over Binghamton on March 19. He gave up six goals on 22 shots.
However, Copley would bounce back in his next two starts. He made 10 first period saves at Lehigh Valley to keep the game scoreless and stopped 27 of 29 shots in a 6-2 win. Copley followed that up with another 10 save first period against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on March 28 and made 26 saves in a 3-1 Hershey win.
Copley started five of Hershey’s eight games in April. He won his first four starts to run up his win streak to six games. He started the month by turning aside 29 shots in a 4-2 victory over Binghamton on April 3. Fourteen of those saves came in the second period when the Bears were outshot 14 to 5. In his post-game press conference, head coach Spencer Carbery credited Copley with making, “a handful of unbelievable, 10-out-of-10 saves” in the game.
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) April 17, 2021
In his next start, the Michigan Tech product stopped all 21 shots he faced to earn his first shutout of the season in a 2-0 triumph over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. For the season, Copley was 8-3-1-1 with a .897 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average.
The North Pole, Alaska native got the start three times in May. He won two of those starts to finish with a 10-4-1 record. His last start against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on May 8 was a special one for the netminder. Copley stopped all 34 shots the Phantoms sent his way to record a shutout in his 100th career AHL victory. It was the Michigan Tech product’s second shutout of the season. Copley combined with Zach Fucale to capture Harry “Hap” Holmes Memorial Award. He was summoned to Washington and backed up Craig Anderson in game two of the Capitals first round Stanley Cup playoff series with Boston. Copley finished the season with a 2.66 GAA and a .896 save percentage in 16 games.
TRENDING – SAME
Copley’s career has been up and down in its entirety. Portions of each and every season, he’s caught fire and demonstrated he can play at any level. Other parts of his season it seams as though he checks out. The up-and-down nature of his career has been a consistent complement of his time in Washington.
Copley has proven he can play at the NHL level, and can be a backup, as he did for Braden Holtby during the 2018-19 season. With the departure of Vitek Vanecek in the Seattle expansion draft, Copley is now back in the mix for playing time in Washington, barring a trade during the offseason.
By Jon Sorensen
2020-2021 Prospect Reviews And Forecasts
Martin Hugo Has