JT Compher looking to lock down things up the middle

DETROIT, MI – The Detroit Red Wings made some moves this off-season. They added a few pieces to their offense, hoping to strengthen the forward core, especially in the top six. One of their new additions should be able to lock down a centerman role with the team this season.

The Detroit Red Wings agreed to a five-year, $25.5 million contract with J.T. Compher, who’s been around for the last seven seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL). For the Red Wings, Compher is someone who should be able to jump into the team’s forward core and hopefully have a positive impact immediately.

Wings Sign JT Compher to a Five-Year, $25.5 Million Contract in Free Agency

DETROIT, MI – General manager Steve Yzerman was intent on filling holes in the Wings’ lineup and few teams were as active Saturday on the first day of unrestricted free agency as the Wings were.

They made their biggest splash late in the day, signing center J.T. Compher to a five-year contract worth $25.5 million ($5.1 million cap hit).

JT Compher Ranks in the Top Five Defensive Centers in the NHL

DENVER, CO – Offense reigns supreme in the modern NHL.

Speed and skill are at an all-time high, defensemen are more active offensively, power-play scoring rates have boomed, enhanced stick technology has bolstered the shooting ability of players and referees are calling the rulebook tighter than ever before.

It’s never been harder to defend, which makes high-end shutdown players uniquely valuable. We’ve analyzed some of hockey’s top shutdown defensemen before but who are the league’s best defensive centers?

We can explore this topic by digging into some data. In fact, we need a combination of numbers to filter through the league and find our gems. Why? Well, we can’t solely rely on something like goals against, for example, because it’s too blunt of an instrument — it doesn’t account for the other four players that the center shares the ice with or goaltending quality. But it’s obviously still a really important measuring point, so the goal is to find a variety of metrics like this that can be useful and complement each other.

I started the exercise by using an initial filter for the following criteria since the 2020-21 season.

  • Plays an average of at least 15 minutes per game
  • Five-on-five goals-against rate below the league average for forwards of 2.53 (Preventing goals is the ultimate goal of defense. Goals against can, however, be quite volatile and influenced by luck — some centers prevent shots and scoring chances very well but get punished because their goaltender can’t make a save — so I didn’t want this filter to be too harsh.)
  • Matchups around league-average quality or tougher (If you’re a top defensive center you shouldn’t be playing sheltered minutes. I used HockeyViz and PuckIQ’s quality of competition data to measure this)
  • Must kill penalties, even if it’s just on a part-time basis (If you don’t ever kill penalties, are you really an elite defensive player?)

After running this filter, we get a refined pool of centers over the last three seasons who play top-nine minutes, are trusted enough to defend top forwards on a regular basis, prevent goals against better than league-average and kill penalties. From here, I decided to use Evolving-Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) tool to measure defensive impact and rank our pool of centers.

This RAPM tool can identify the players who have the strongest impact on suppressing quality scoring chances through their expected goals model. Most importantly, this tool can level the playing field by giving us a player’s isolated defensive impact after accounting for variables such as teammate quality (who they share the ice with on shifts), opposition quality, zone starts (some players start in the defensive zone more often than others) and more.

There’s no such thing as a perfect all-in-one tool, and RAPM is no different, but in a world where objectively measuring defensive impact can be challenging, this stands out as a useful data point.

Before presenting the results, I want to quickly share a couple of disclaimers:

  • We’re ignoring offense and only measuring pure defensive impact. That means if Center A is higher on this list than Center B, it doesn’t necessarily mean Center A is the better overall player.
  • We will only be measuring five-on-five impact because it’s nearly impossible to objectively measure penalty-killing ability with publicly available data.
  • This is, of course, only an analytical perspective. The numbers obviously can’t capture everything, especially for defense. Because of that, take this article’s findings as a conversation starter, or a list that’s identifying some of the top defensive centers rather than a definitive ranking. You should look at the initial list and then apply your own eye test, context and knowledge — it’s all about how you interpret the data. There will be plenty of quality shutdown centers that don’t land on this list or just missed the cut for one reason or another like Jean Gabriel Pageau and Elias Lindholm.

Without further ado, let’s dive in. The centers on this list will be presented in the order of their RAPM defensive impact.

3. J.T. Compher will be a surprising name to many but the closer you watch him, the more you appreciate the details of his game. The 27-year-old pending UFA is speedy and offers a nonstop motor which makes him very disruptive both on the forecheck and stealing pucks on the backcheck. Compher has been on the ice for fewer than 2.00 goals against per hour in four consecutive seasons. Typically that’s been in a third-line role, but Nazem Kadri’s departure has forced Compher into a more prominent role. He’s been successful navigating the higher minutes (averaging 20:23 per game) and tougher matchups (playing the most minutes against elite competition of any Avs forward besides Nathan MacKinnonaccording to PuckIQ), authoring a breakout performance where he’s not only maintained his excellent defensive numbers, but also chipped in with a career-high 50 points.

JT Compher Listed as Top Five Breakout Players in 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs

DENVER, CO – The Stanley Cup playoffs are always full of excitement and surprises, and as the best players tend to lead their teams deep into playoffs, the supporting cast and unexpected players are the ones who help push the team to the next level. We are going to look at five players who had breakout performances during these playoffs and how their careers can only go up from here.

JT Compher

Even though J.T. Compher hasn’t had a huge jump in points per game from the regular season, he was able to step up in a big way when Nazem Kadri was injured and even before that. He played just nine minutes in Game 6 versus the St. Louis Blues but scored two goals. He followed that performance up with a two-goal game in the first meeting between the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers playing just under 13 minutes.

Compher’s goals came at timely moments and he did so in the bottom-six, but when Kadri missed some games, he easily stepped into his spot and provided the Avalanche with a solid second-line replacement, almost as if nothing had changed. Seeing as how stacked the Avalanche are and the impact some of the top players have had, Compher’s contributions may be overlooked, but shouldn’t be. The team may need him to be their second-line center moving forward as they will likely lose Kadri to free agency in the offseason.

J.T. Compher has Become the Avalanche’s Secret Weapon

DENVER, CO – As Nazem Kadri slammed into the boards thanks to a blind-side hit from Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, the shockwave of his absence hit the Colorado Avalanche like a neutron bomb.

Or, at least, it should have.

Sure, the Avalanche were in the midst of dismantling an overmatched Oilers squad when Kadri went down. They likely would have beaten them anyway. But regardless of the matchup, losing a top-six center who scored at a 110-point pace in the regular season at a crucial moment in a do-or-die Cup run would be a sucker punch from which very few teams can recover nonetheless.

Compher comes up big for Avalanche in Game 3 of Western Final

EDMONTON, AB – It should have been one of the great celebrations of J.T. Compher‘s NHL career.

Had he actually witnessed the puck cross the goal line, it likely would have been.

Instead, the Colorado Avalanche forward had no idea that his snap shot had snuck through the legs of Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith with 7:18 remaining in the third period for what would prove to be the winning goal in a 4-2 victory at Rogers Place on Saturday.

“Shot five-hole and I didn’t see it go in,” the 27-year-old said. “I thought it was in his pads the way he was moving.”

As the Oilers crowd let out a collective groan, Compher finally took another look. That’s when the reality set in. The puck was in the net.

“It took me a second to get there,” he said. “It was nice to see when I finally did see it in the net.”

Not only for him, but for the entire Avalanche team. The goal, after all, lifted Colorado to a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Final heading into Game 4 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS).

While Compher proved to be the hero of Game 3, his importance for the Avalanche moving forward certainly gained traction after Nazem Kadri sustained an undisclosed injury at 1:06 of the first period.

With the Oilers leading 1-0 on a goal by captain Connor McDavid 38 seconds into the game, Kadri was hit from behind on a dangerous play by forward Evander Kane and was down on the ice for several minutes before being helped off with the aid of a trainer. Kane was assessed a major penalty for boarding on the play.

Having lost his second-line center, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar responded by moving Compher into Kadri’s spot between Artturi Lehkonen and Mikko Rantanen.

He might be there for a while, given the severity of Kadri’s injury.

Bednar announced after the game that Kadri will be out for the remainder of the series, if not longer. The Avalanche did not reveal the extent of the injury, but there is no doubt it is serious given the coach’s diagnosis.

Time for Compher to step up. On this night, he did.

“You lose a guy of ‘Naz’s’ stature and the role that he plays, someone has to step up, if not multiple guys,” Bednar said. “And I thought J.T. has been playing some really good hockey lately, finding a way to get on the score sheet.

JT Compher scores twice, Avalanche beat Blues 3-2 to Win Series

ST. LOUIS, MO – Colorado coach Jared Bednar had been looking for a little extra aggressiveness from veteran center Darren Helm.

Bednar got his wish on Friday night.

Helm scored with 5.6 seconds left and Darcy Kuemper stopped 18 shots as the Avalanche finished off their second-round series with a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 on Friday night.

“We wanted him to be assertive and not so safe,” Bednar said.

J.T. Compher scored twice for Colorado, which advanced to the Western Conference finals for first time since 2002. The Avalanche had been eliminated in the second round each of the past three years.

Colorado opens the series against Edmonton on Tuesday night in Denver.

J.T. Compher’s hat trick lifts Avalanche to 6-0 victory and shot at the Presidents’ Trophy

DENVER, CO – J.T. Compher scored a hat trick and the Avalanche exploded offensively without superstar center Nathan MacKinnon, defeating the Los Angeles Kings 6-0 at Ball Arena on Wednesday.

The Avs host the Kings in the 56th and final regular-season game on Thursday and a victory will clinch the West Division title and the Presidents’ Trophy. Colorado (38-13-4, 80 points) is two points back of the Vegas Golden Knights, who won their regular-season finale at San Jose on Wednesday to keep their Presidents’ Trophy hopes alive.

Avalanche’s Third Line, J.T. Compher thriving with Coyotes playoff series ahead

DENVER, CO- Avalanche forward J.T. Compher skates to an opposing goaltender’s crease on a mission to create havoc on the forecheck, and even if it’s ugly, to put in the puck.

“That’s how you score goals,” Compher said. “Getting to the net.”

Colorado’s third-line center is more than just talk. Remember Saturday?

In the Avs’ 4-3 overtime defeat against Vegas, Compher scored the third-period equalizer when he bullied Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt by knocking him off-balance with a two-gloved shove — and creating the small space required to rebound a Nazem Kadri shot attempt back into the net.

“A big goal from the Compher line getting it in on the forecheck and bringing us back to even,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said postgame. “Going into the playoffs, you have to expect that teams are going to check you hard. That’s the goal of every team.”

Lately, Colorado’s third “Compher line” hasn’t been afraid to bring the pain. In three games of Western Conference round-robin seeding play, the trio of Compher, Andre Burakovsky, and Joonas Donskoi combined for eight points (four goals) with a net-aggressive brand of hockey.