The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eleven writers and 480 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2019 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
J.T. was number eleven on our T25U25 last season and has found himself up to number nine after a few dynamic playoff games and improved play during the regular season. If not for the addition of Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook and Cale Makar, the Northbrook, IL native would be up to number six on our list.
BEST YEAR AS A PRO
In development, J.T. was playing on top-line after top-line, which gave him opportunities that showcased his speed and quick release. That all changed once he arrived in the NHL where Compher found himself playing with mildly talented but more gritty linemates. After the 2017-18 season, the consensus on J.T. was that he’d not entirely played to his potential.
Fortunately, in the 2018-19 campaign, he took advantage of some improbable opportunities scoring short-handed and in transition. On top of that he was a fierce competitor throughout the year. Just ask the trash can he destroyed amidst the Avs playoff run.
His speed and positioning made way for his explosiveness to be apparent and advantageous. Subsequently, Compher had his best NHL season, sporting a new career-high in goals (16), assists (16) and points (32).
In my opinion, the most important and exciting thing we saw from Compher this season was clutch scoring in the ladder stages of the season/playoffs. He scored a game-tying goal in both playoff series’ of 2018-19, and his premier speed was glaring against the Calgary Flames.
Compher served his camp well by producing in the playoffs. It gave him and his agent a little more leverage in negotiating his pending contract extension. Eventually, both sides agreed to 14M over four-years with an AAV of 3.5M narrowly avoiding arbitration. A process that can get ugly as we learned from the now Conn Smyth winning center Ryan O’Reilly.
I imagine the term was the negotiating factor that pressed the issue. It makes sense for Compher to have hoped for a shorter term bridge deal and the Avalanche seem to have mastered getting incredible talent to agree to a term that makes way for a discount in the final years of said contract (I.e. MacKinnon’s ridiculous discount). The four-year term seems like an apparent compromise from both sides of the table, and 3.5AAV is a reasonable price for someone who has steadily improved and played well in big time situations.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic’s plans were evident as we approached NHL Free Agency. The main task at hand was finding a true 2C. Enter Nazem Kadri. I mention Kadri because his arrival points to a more definite role for Compher in the 2019-20 season. Sakic stated that Kadri playing 2C would allow young forward Tyson Jost to play as a second-line winger. That points to Compher landing at 3C with the former Golden Knight, Pierre Edouard Bellemare at 4C. Compher could eat up a lot of the tough minutes vacated by the departure of Carl Soderberg.
The addition of Kadri may take away from of the powerplay minutes Compher saw last season. He had a big role in the middle of the first unit. Kadri plays the exact same spot on the PP so Coach Bednar could decide to use him, bumping Compher down to the second unit - a move that could have a drastic impact on his production.
Avalanche faithful have undoubtedly been waiting for Tyson Jost to emerge as a top-6 forward. Still I wonder if Compher is a more explosive and dynamic fit as a winger with Kadri and Burakovsky. The Avalanche are excellent at transitioning with speed and carrying the puck into the zone and that bodes well for Kadri, Burakovsky and Compher’s playstyle. Sean Tierney’s predictions also show the possibility of Compher sneaking into the top-6.
If Compher finds his way onto the second-line and or on the first powerplay unit, expect a much improved stat line and high-light reel from the twenty-four-year-old. If all goes as Sakic has planned he is far less likely to see a substantial uptick in minutes. Without an increase in opportunistic ice-time, I see J.T. only slightly improving on his 2018-19 numbers.