J.T. Compher: How Steve Yzerman convinced him Detroit Red Wings would be good fit

Detroit Free Press

The day after he signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract to join the Detroit Red Wings, J.T. Compher delved into what led him to leave a team one year removed from hoisting the Stanley Cup in favor of one that hasn’t made the playoffs in seven years. It helps when it is Steve Yzerman is the recruiter, of course.

“There are a lot of attractive parts about playing for the Red Wings,” Compher said Sunday. “I think that at the end of the day was my conversation with Steve and hearing about the direction of the Wings and what he was trying to build. He’s done it before. He has experience, not only as a player, but in management. I really believed in what he’s doing with the team and the sort of people they want to bring in. You want to have a great team on the ice and good guys in the locker room. I know what sort of room I’m getting myself into.”

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It doesn’t hurt that the room includes two friends in fellow former Michigan teammates Dylan Larkin and Andrew Copp, both of whom Compher talked to in the week leading up to free agency.

“There’s a lot that attracted me to be a Red Wing,” Compher said. “First of all playing at Michigan and growing up in Chicago, both things things helped me see the great legacy and tradition the Detroit Red Wings have. I have a lot of respect for the organization. I had some really good talks with Steve and the coaching staff and what they are trying to build and how they are trying to build it. In terms of this year and the future, it sounds like a great place to play hockey. On the other side of it, I do have good friends on the team, and I’m excited to get on the ice with those guys as well.

“But overall it was the direction of the team, the desire to win. I could hear it in their voice. That’s what you want as a player, a chance to build and try to win a championship.”

Compher, 28, joins the Wings after seven seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. His first season in Denver was 2016-17, when the Avs finished at the bottom of the standings. Having Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog on the team, and then drafting Cale Makar, boosted the Avs to a Cup victory in 2022. The Wings don’t have that level of superstars, but Compher cited his experience with the Avs as a valuable tool in making the Wings better.

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“We’ve had success in Colorado when I was there but it took a lot of building,” He said. “My first year, we were the worst team in the league. I know what it takes and I’m excited to be with this group and build towards the ultimate goal of winning a championship. And that starts with making the playoffs.

“I’ve been through it and I’m excited for this challenge.”

The term and money seems steep for a forward whose personal bests are 18 goals in 2021-22 and 52 points this past season, but that is what happens in free agency. The Wings get a 6 foot, 190-pound, right-shooting forward who can play center or either wing, and one who is determined to build on the growth he experienced the past two seasons.

“I think that there were a few different things — the experience of winning, playing a little bit of second-line center in the playoffs the year we won, and that was good for my confidence,” Compher said. “I got to play more last year with all the injuries, and in a lot more of an offensive role, and it continued progressing my game with confidence and a little more poise with the puck, and I’m excited to continue that development. I think last year is something I can build off of.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter.

Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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