With the Avalanche’s 2020–21 season cut down to 56 games due to COVID-19, there was an unspoken understanding, from us fans, at least, that each and every player on the roster was going to have to step up and give their best to the team each and every night.
Have we seen that from everyone thus far through 18 games? Probably not, but I want to talk about one player in particular in J.T. Compher.
Defining Compher’s role
At the start of the season, there were a number of games where what I saw was a player who would make a dash to get the puck, then not finish the play. Numerous times, he would drop off and not follow through to give the Avalanche the best chance at scoring. It baffled me. Honestly, not because I am a big fan of his, but because he has a role to play and to me, he was not fulfilling that role.
I was expecting him to be the one working hard and getting the puck out of the zone. I do not know how many times lately Peter McNab and Mark Moser have commented that the Avs are not getting the puck out of the zone. It is not just Compher’s responsibility, but as one of the six left wingers on the team, he has a part to play.
There were times when I expected him to be the playmaker. Being there and making solid passes, moving the puck down the boards, being in the thick of things in the offensive zone, working to get the puck to the front of the net or taking more shots on goal. He was missing in action and not doing those things.
Maybe I was not understanding what he should have been doing. I checked on the ‘How To Hockey’ site about what a winger’s job is. Here is what it said:
“Your general duties as a wingman are to dig in the corner, feed the centerman, wreak havoc in front of the other teams net and outsmart the other teams defensemen on both ends of the rink.
In the defensive zone that is to stop the other teams’ defensemen from getting the puck and getting a shot on your goal; to get a break out pass from your own team member; to block shots or passes if the other teams defenseman does have the puck; to intercept passes and break out.
One of the biggest responsibilities of the winger in the defensive zone is breaking the puck out.
In the offensive zone his job is to carry the puck out and get a shot on net; look for a man in front of the net and set him up for a pass, look to see if the D is open and if so give them the puck, carry the puck up the boards a bit and cycle it back.”
A lot of what was described here does not represent Compher in my eyes.
Chemistry with the Avalanche
Watching Colorado Head Coach Jared Bednar move Compher up and down the lines, it was pretty clear that he did not know where to put Compher. Bednar moved him to the second line and that certainly did not work—too many turnovers and little chemistry with his linemates to deliver what is expected of a scoring line. Colorado was waiting for them to make a difference on nights when the top line was shut down, and it was not happening.
And there were even times earlier in the season when Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri were out and Compher was part of the top line. That was a disaster. At least that is my way of describing it. Nothing clicked. Landeskog, Rantanen and Compher have hugely different hockey styles. That is all I can say about it.
Next, he shows up centering the third line. Again, no real delivery. It did not matter who he was out there with, he just could not seem to gel with them. Compher is not the only third-line player who is struggling this year. Valeri Nichushkin—who had an amazing year last year scoring 13 goals and 14 assists from 65 games, with three of those being game-winning goals—only has two goals and two assists so far this season. He has not been playing up to what is expected either given what the team showed in depth scoring last season.
If I remember correctly, Bednar even tried Compher on the fourth line for a short while and that certainly did not pan out, either. With young players such as Logan O’Connor and others from the taxi squad, it was clear there are better fourth-line combinations than ones including Compher.
You know who I totally forgot was a member of the Colorado Avalanche?
Where has he been this season?
— Scott MacDonald (@0ffScottFree) February 23, 2021
The next thing I noticed was that the Avalanche social media team were posting videos of Compher scoring goals at practice. Maybe this was Bednar’s way of trying to get Compher to realize exactly what his role on the team was. Perhaps he needed it spelled out clearly by the head coach for him to realize it. It does not really make sense to me. As a hockey player, whether that is as a forward or a defenseman, shouldn’t your mind be either on scoring goals or stopping goals?
Obviously, something clicked, because on Wednesday night in the game against the Minnesota Wild, Compher scored a goal for the Avalanche. He also had an assist. But, can he keep this up? I guess only time will tell. I saw a lot of fans were surprised. Why? Because we just have not seen anything from Compher leading up to that to show his commitment to giving 110% on the ice each and every night.
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) February 25, 2021
After only a couple of games into the season, I had quite a heated debate with another Avalanche fan about Compher. My view was that he needed to be traded because I was not seeing him provide value to the team, who has Stanley Cup aspirations this season.
Interestingly, the one player that Colorado traded a couple of seasons ago who is the same age, has the same salary and plays both center and left wing is providing much more value for his team than Compher is: Alexander Kerfoot. Kerfoot and Andreas Johanson from the New Jersey Devils both have positive plus-minus ratings this season, whereas Compher has a -2. The Maple Leafs are having a good season, and the Devils have been surprisingly successful.
My friend continued to argue that I was looking at Compher all wrong, that he had a role on the team, and he was playing it. He was not going to be the star player scoring night after night, but he was doing what was asked of him in his role. I am not sure that I followed exactly what that role was, and we agreed to disagree on his value.
I was comparing Compher’s output to players like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Matt Calvert, and for me, they just did not add up. But, as my friend rightly pointed out, Compher has much better stats than either of the other two.
Okay, so if the stats say he has been a better contributor on the ice, then what am I missing?
For me, it is the passion. When players like Bellemare and Calvert are on the ice, you can see they are there fighting for that puck and driving to the net, with passion, each and every time. Or, they are fighting to stop that puck going in the net when the opposition is trying really hard to do just that. A team is made up of stars, grinders and passionate players. They are all different. They all bring their uniqueness to the ice. Fair enough. I see that.
However, I am still not yet convinced that Compher has a long-term place with this team.
Convince me that I am wrong.