In a lost season with very little left to play for, the Colorado Avalanche are getting a headstart on auditioning players for next season's roster. The trade deadline moves signaled the beginning of a youth movement as they brought in 23-year-old Sven Andrighetto from the Montreal Canadiens and called up 21-year-old J.T. Compher from the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL.
Both players are getting the opportunity to make a case for a permanent job in the NHL next season and the journey for Compher has been more straightforward than Andrighetto's, whose time on waivers signaled an inability for him to carve out a permanent niche on talented Canadiens teams.
Compher's path has to the NHL has previously been covered here at BSN Denver and now that he's made good on his promise up to this point, it's no surprise his audition for the 2017-18 Avalanche is off to an impressive start. While held scoreless in his first three contests, he's being given plenty of opportunities by Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar, averaging 1:51 of power play time in his first three games.
"It's awesome," Compher said of the power play responsibility. "It's nice to be given that opportunity but I'd like to do a little more with it. I had a couple turnovers on the power play I'd like to clean up. He's giving me an opportunity and I'm trying to take advantage of it."
The feisty Compher was honest in the assessment of his play in tonight's 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues, saying,"It was nice to play the first game at home. Obviously, it wasn't the result we wanted. I think us as a team and me, individually, could have done some stuff better and we don't like the result."
That was a common theme throughout the locker room as multiple players echoed the sentiment of cleaning up the costly mistakes that have consistently cost the Avalanche games this season. For Compher, however, this was just one more step in finding his groove in the NHL.
"I think I'm getting a little more comfortable as I get a few more games under my belt. I'm trying to be a little more patient with the puck, continuing to be part of the forecheck and backchecking D, be a two-way player. I think I'm getting a little more comfortable as we get going."
From his seat, Bednar likes what he's seen already from his young center.
"I really liked his first two games," Bednar said. "He's a little bit like Andrighetto for me. I think he's a guy that can think the game, he plays at a good speed and pace and can execute."
Bednar is a coach who has built his reputation on defense, discipline, and patience with young players. Compher's early work in those areas has impressed his coach.
"No major breakdowns or anything defensively," Bednar said of Compher's play. "He's been pretty good in a checking role and I think the offense will come, a lot like it did with Mikko."
Compher attributed his early success with a familiarity with the systems being run in San Antonio and Denver.
"Yeah, they're similar. They do a good job of communicating, making sure that when guys do go up or down that they know the way to play and that everyone in the organization is mastering the same system so it makes it a lot easier to be comfortable."
First up on his list of things to work on? Faceoffs, where he's been overmatched early on with a success rate of just 39.1% and is one of the most difficult adjustments for young centers first breaking into the NHL.
"I think first would be faceoffs, be a little stronger in the dot and then just be more patient with the puck. I think I have a little more time and I do want to get the puck in and go forecheck but there are certain times where I think I can hang on to it and make a better play."
The compact Colorado schedule has seen them play three games in four nights since Compher was called up the afternoon of the NHL's trade deadline, giving him essentially zero time to work with one of the NHL's best faceoff artists, center Matt Duchene. Still, the veteran has already been in Compher's ear in helping him work out the kinks.
"(Duchene) has been real helpful," Compher stated. "We haven't had a lot of time to practice but he said we're going to have some time to work on it. Like I said, he's been helpful whether I'm going against (Winnipeg Jets forward Adam) Lowry last game or (St. Louis Blues forward Patrik) Berglund a couple times tonight, making sure I know what their tendencies are."
For the rest of his game, it's simply an adjustment to the world's most competitive hockey league but he feels confident he's getting the hang of it the more time he gets. He credits his teammates with helping him find his footing so early on.
"It's a step up. Everything from AHL to NHL is a step up. You've gotta be sharp and the guys here have been really helpful trying to give me tips and keys on certain guys that we're playing against. I just got to be a little stronger on the dot."
The youngster is being counted on to be a key part of Colorado's next wave of young players they hope will drag them kicking and screaming out of the comfort zone they've developed in the bottom of the standings. While the offense has yet to show, there's plenty of reason to believe this fiery young center is one Avalanche fans will be rooting for a lot in coming years.