With their seventh-round pick, 216th overall, the Edmonton Oilers selected right shot centre Matt Copponi. Copponi is a double overager, having been passed over in the draft twice already, but had a big jump in effectiveness during his sophomore season at Merrimack College in the NCAA. On one hand, being an older prospect means that there might be less road for Copponi to develop, though on the other hand Copponi is already more accomplished than the usual seventh-round draft pick.
Let’s take a look at who Copponi is as a player, what the next steps of his development might be, and how he fits into the Oilers prospect system as a whole.
|Matt Copponi||Regular Season|
Copponi is most praised for his work ethic, with nearly every scouting report on him mentioning “compete level”, being “hard to play against”, and having a “chip on his shoulder.” Oilers Director of Amateur Scouting Tyler Wright even mentioned the playoffs, describing Copponi as “extremely hard to play against.” This tracks, as Copponi himself grew up with Brad Marchand as his favourite player, which made enough of an impact for Copponi to earn nicknames such as “the rat” (affectionately) over his career.
Issues away from the puck, particularly defensively, are the areas which Copponi still has to take steps forward. It did take Copponi some time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the college game, though he improved his game significantly from his freshman season to his sophomore season.
Copponi centred the top line and was second on the team in scoring, with 29 points in 37 games. The right-hand centre was instrumental in helping Merrimack to reach the NCAA Hockey East Final. Copponi has enough speed to attack off the rush, enough skill to work give and gos with teammates, and often finds space in the middle of the ice to get quick half-slap one-timers off. Like Marchand, though Copponi is not the biggest player at 5’11” and 174 lbs., he finds a way to cut into the middle of the ice, even using toe drags to beat defenders to the inside.
Path to pro
Ideally, Copponi should be able to both reprise and improve his role as Merrimack’s top centre, helping to propel the team to great success. It would be nice to see slightly more offensive production, though the expectation should not exceed a slightly higher points per game rate. It will be more important for Copponi to continue adding strength and building out his defensive game.
Copponi might be ready to leave college after Merrimack’s 2023–24 season comes to a close. This would give Copponi the chance to make a brief debut in the AHL next season. Hopefully Copponi has a quicker adjustment period to the professional ranks than he did to the college ranks, but as a scorer we will hope to see significant AHL production from Copponi before any NHL considerations materialize.
Fit on the Oilers roster
Though he will spend another season in college, Copponi joins a cluster of Oilers prospects around his age. When he makes the jump to professional hockey, likely joining the Bakersfield Condors as soon as the end of this season, he will be among a well supported young group with a lot of talent.
If all goes according to plan, the group of prospects should have a great deal of success in the AHL, elevating each other and growing chemistry together. The hope will be that this success and chemistry will be enough to develop a number of these prospects into legitimate NHL talent that could improve the roster for minimal cap hits.
If at some point Copponi is able to produce consistently at the AHL level, it should help bring another teammate along with him. Perhaps one of Xavier Bourgault, Matvei Petrov, Jake Chiasson, or Jayden Grubbe—forward prospects of a similar age—might develop strong chemistry with Copponi that they can ride to an NHL promotion.
At the very least the Oilers are building out what looks to be a strong AHL program. If only anecdotally, an AHL run fuelled by young players can help create a huge influx of talent to the NHL affiliate. If Copponi and the other young Condors are able to become a top AHL in the next two to three seasons, it would be a boon to the Oilers into Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s next contracts.