Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Colorado Avalanche had an issue. The summertime departures of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (9 goals), Joonas Donskoi (17), and Brandon Saad (15) saw the team shed 20 percent of its goal-scoring from last season, leaving them scrambling to secure competent replacements. Luckily, internal candidates are putting forth admirable efforts to bridge the gap and maintain Colorado’s relevance as Stanley Cup contenders. The most surprising of the early revelations is J.T Compher, the oft-maligned utility forward whose cap hit has made him a regular in trade proposals as the Avalanche navigate the stagnating salary cap. However, the sixth-year man is seeing the most ice-time of his career and producing like a top-six forward as a result. Let’s dig into what’s driving his early success.
Versatility Is Compher’s Key to Success
Simply put, Compher is Colorado’s Swiss Army knife, among the team’s leaders for ice-time in all situations. Through the first eight games, he ranks fifth among forwards in 5-on-5 ice-time, first in power-play minutes, and is the second-most utilized forward on the penalty kill. He’s playing just under 20 minutes a night, over three minutes higher than his career average. Head coach Jared Bednar clearly trusts Compher and is being repaid handsomely for his well-placed faith, with the forward tallying eight points in eight games, including three power-play points and a shorthanded goal. It goes without saying, but having reliable options to relieve the Avalanche’s primary scoring options provides a crucial advantage when those same offensive threats are in a rut.
His strong sense of defensive awareness makes him an underrated pick-pocket, and he uses his speed to capitalize on defensive miscues from his opposition and generate scoring chances even on the penalty kill. Using a threshold of 10 minutes played on the penalty kill, Compher is one of the league’s best at creating offense out of the numerical mismatches inherent to killing penalties. He ranks eighth in points per 60 minutes and 12th in individual expected goals created, meaning other teams must be aware of him when he’s on the ice. If they slip up, he’ll embarrass them, as the Washington Capitals experienced earlier this season. Apart from being a penalty-killing maven, Compher is hitting a new gear as an offensive threat at even-strength and on the power play.
Compher Hitting New Level on Offense
Although Compher hasn’t experienced much-increased production at five-on-five, his underlying metrics suggest that he’s due for a jump in scoring. The rate at which he creates individual high-danger chances (iHDCF/60), individual expected goals (ixG/60), and shots (SH/60) are the highest since his 2018-19 season, and they all rank within the top-six threshold (top-192 among forwards).
Otherwise, he’s been snake-bitten at five-on-five. His current shooting percentage (SH%) is 9.1 percent, the first time his conversion rate has dipped below 10 percent since his sophomore season. Further, his 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage (OISH%) – which considers his shots as well as those of his linemates – is at its lowest since 2017-18. How that manifests on the boxscore stats is evident. Compher is stuck at one goal and no assists at 5-on-5 this season. This comes after posting 15 such points in 2020-21 and 21 the season before. He’s creating chances; they’re just not finding the back of the net. Luckily, his offensive zone start ratio (OZS%) of 66.7 percent is over 10 percentage points than his previous benchmark of 55 percent in 2017-18, meaning Bednar is putting him in positions to succeed, and his raw totals should spike within due time.
A significant factor in Compher’s overall increase in production is his deployment on the power play, as he’s averaged the highest ice-time of his career (3:55 per game) on the man-advantage. Now, that’s partially due to the early absences of Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, but he’s taken his chances nonetheless, setting career-highs in every per 60 minute metric, including goals, assists, shots, individual expected goals, and scoring chances.
One potential area of concern is his individual points percentage (IPP), which indicates the proportion of total production for which a given player is responsible for creating. Prior to this season, his previous career-high in that department was 35 percent. Through eight games, he’s accounted for an astronomical 75 percent of his team’s power-play points when he’s on the ice.
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Normally, that is a blaring siren indicating his scoring totals are going to drop, but the percentages are on his side. His individual shooting percentage (SH%) of 16.7 percent on the power play is below his career high, and his OISH% is the lowest of his career. This, in addition to the fact that he’s creating chances at a career-high rate, gives him a slight cushion if his involvement drops as the rates move closer to his career norms.
Which Is the Real Compher?
Although Compher has undoubtedly been a beneficiary of circumstance, he’s legitimately producing at an efficient rate when adjusting for his expanded role for the Avalanche. He leverages his identity as a formidable two-way threat to shift the dynamic of play in any situation, giving Bednar another weapon to utilize in Colorado’s quest for the Cup. If he continues to create scoring chances at his current rate, he should mitigate the negative impact of any regression and poor puck luck. No matter what happens, Compher has re-established his place as an integral contributor to the Avalanche after consecutive turbulent seasons. For that alone, he deserves a lot of credit.
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.