Welcome to the Burgundy Debate Club! We’ve again tasked a pair of our staff writers to present why, and then why won’t, a certain Avalanche player might find success this coming season. In this episode, Rudo3 makes the case for and the good Professor Oak makes the case against Mr JT Compher. Take it away, Rudo
While the national media would like you to believe that Zadorov was the only important piece the Avs got in the O’Reilly trade, J.T. Compher has steadily been pushing the needle towards calling that trade a win for Avs fans everywhere. Despite still being considered a rookie, Compher might just be the most well-rounded forward playing on the Avalanche right now. When you combine that with his versatility you have a multi-tool of a player that can fill any role you require.
Even from before the Avalanche acquired him, Compher was touted as a strong 200-foot player. It’s clear the Avs have embraced him in this role as through 4 games only 1 forward (Landeskog) has more time on the PK than Compher. Even with having big minutes on the kill he has only been on ice for 2 of the 6 powerplay goals against and he even managed to make up for it by scoring a shorty. His penalty killing and physical ability alone is enough for him to hold down an NHL roster spot in the bottom six but he brings much more than that to the table.
J.T. has the offensive tools in his bag to reach scoring rates that would be perfectly acceptable for a 2nd line NHL player. While he might not be there yet, there is no reason he won’t make strides toward it this year. His wrist shot has flown under the radar since turning pro but it can be absolutely deadly. In his small NHL sample size, he has shot a very respectable 11.1% and he backs that up with a 16.9% in the AHL last season. For reference Rantanen shot 17.1% in his AHL year. More intriguing is his offensive instincts/hockey IQ/game sense. Whatever you want to call it, he has it by the bushel. It’s something hard to quantify, but if you watch him closely you can see it. He’s always anticipating the next move and putting himself into position for it, finding the soft spot in the defense and creeping into it, or pulling a defender to him before whipping a pass by him. He’s all that and a bag of chips and we haven’t even gotten into his intangibles/60 from his time as captain at the University of Michigan.
So where does Compher slot into the lineup this year? One magical word: anywhere. His skillset allows him to play up and down the lineup in all situations. Last season he played anywhere from 11 to 19 minutes a night and when he got top 6 time he didn’t look out of place. Beyond that, Compher is one of those players that can play all three forward positions. He is a natural center, the NHL has him officially listed at left wing and in his AHL year he played a decent amount on Grimaldi’s right side with Greer on the left. Once again, his hockey IQ allows him to quickly adapt to any of these positions and adjust accordingly. The final kicker, Compher is one of just three Avs forwards who shoot right handed (MacKinnon and Comeau are the other two).
It’s quite the coincidence Compher wears number 37. To say he can fill O’Reilly’s shoes would be a stretch, but the path laid out for him by the Avs certainly has some striking similarities.
And now for the contra position, Professor you have the floor
J.T. Compher came to the Avalanche as one of the many pieces in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. After placing second in the nation in scoring during the NCAA 2015-16 season with 60 points in 36 games, Avs fans had many reasons to be excited. However, his line mate, Kyle Connor (WPG ’15) lead the nation with 69 points in 36 games, so how much of Compher’s production was him, and how much of it was the freshman phenom? Luckily, the Avs signed this college prospect, who decided not to use the loophole and become a free agent one year later.
The next year Compher played with the San Antonio Rampage, and started to give Avs fans even more hope, as he notched 30 points in 41 games. So you may be thinking, “maybe it wasn’t all Kyle Connor”. Maybe if he gets the ice time he needs, he will produce. Compher even earned a late season call-up for 21 games, because anything that could go wrong last year, did go wrong. That didn’t deter Compher from earning that NHL salary for the last quarter of the season. The season left every Avalanche fan so numb, that they (myself included) were so impressed with Compher’s play last year. I remember looking at his stat line, and being surprised it wasn’t more. He was able to notch 3 goals and 2 assists in those 21 games while averaging just under 15 minutes a game. He got the games, he got the ice time, and he didn’t really produce.
That takes us to this year. It’s most likely going to end up being Compher centering Landy and Wilson. I couldn’t tell you what line number this currently is, nor am I going to argue about three first lines, second lines or third lines. If Compher is unsuccessful this year, it will be because he got off to a slow start. Tyson Jost is breathing down his back, currently sitting on the Island of Actual 4th Liners, as a blue chip prospect, waiting to get that promotion. He’s hungry, and he’s coming for you, Compher. The entire Avs forward core is a load of unknowns, between Compher, Jost, Andrighetto, Yakupov, Wilson, so the depth can very much go up and down. If Compher goes down, and stays down, he can be a very effective fourth line center, however I don’t think many Avs fans would be happy with that.
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Thank you gentlemen. What say you, dear reader? Will JT Compher remind us of the man he was traded for or will his potential continue to be just over the horizon?