Detroit Red Wings fans shouldn’t sleep on J.T. Compher

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If you’re one of the Detroit Red Wings fans disappointed by Steve Yzerman’s addition of J.T. Compher, read on. You just might be sleeping on what the forward brings to the lineup.

Even the most patient fans of the Red Wings entered this offseason with at least some level of elevated expectations. The so-called Yzerplan has been in full swing since April of 2019, and Detroit’s supporters are anxious to see the team finally take a step toward relevancy in 2023-24. It’s been a slow and steady grind toward that goal, with Yzerman generally preferring to draft and develop talent—as opposed to shelling out big bucks for marquee free agents.

That approach shifted dramatically last summer when the Detroit Red Wings splurged on a handful of noteworthy reinforcements. Andrew Copp, David Perron, Ville Husso, Dominik Kubalik, Olli Maatta, and the much-maligned Ben Chiarot were all brought into the fold to supplement a young and on-the-rise roster.

All these moves amounted to an 80-point season for the Detroit Red Wings, who finished 12 points back of the final Wild Card spot in the stacked Eastern Conference. Entering the 2023 offseason, it was clear that the Detroit Red Wings needed even more help in all areas of the game. That need for literally everything is what makes J.T. Compher such a strong addition for Yzerman and Co.

Don’t sleep on what J.T. Compher brings to the Detroit Red Wings.

Our own Jordan Orth recently gave the Compher signing a B+ grade, noting that the forward “…adds a certain level of veteran leadership and winning mentality (Compher won the 2022 Stanley Cup with Colorado) while also fitting into the timeframe of a ‘rebuilding’ Red Wings team.” This is spot on, but there’s a solid chance that the 28-year-old ends up surpassing those middle-of-the-road expectations because of his versatility in all situations, defensive prowess, and ability to play both center and wing.

A year ago, the Detroit Red Wings’ penalty kill was solid but unspectacular, finishing 18th overall in the NHL with a 78.3 kill rate. Compher gives head coach Derek Lalonde another forward who can be deployed on the PK with little hesitation. Opposing power plays won’t die on his stick like they would if he were Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk, but he essentially gives the coaching staff a second copy of Copp to roll out on a second unit.

Compher will also be able to take on some of the tougher assignments that Copp was constantly getting stuck with a year ago. That could be enough to push Detroit’s penalty kill toward the top half of the NHL, where Eastern Conference playoff teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning (79.4 PK%) and New York Rangers (81.2 PK%) reside.

The forward also spent an average of 2:46 a night on the ice as a part of Colorado’s sixth-ranked power play, where he notched five goals and added nine assists. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but Compher wasn’t the triggerman on these power-play units. He was a consistent and capable cog in the machine, and Detroit desperately needs those to boost its 17th-ranked power play.

And at even strength, last season, when injuries decimated the Colorado Avalanche, it was Compher who settled in as the team’s No. 2 center. Having earned the trust of head coach Jared Bednar, the former 35th-overall pick averaged 20:32 per night. Only 13 forwards spent more time on the ice each night, and all 13 of them would immediately jump into Detroit’s top-six group. That’s not to suggest that ice time equals quality of play (it does not), but with an organization like Colorado’s, it’s easy enough to connect the dots.

When Compher signed, it seemed like the biggest issue with the deal was that it wasn’t a big enough infusion of talent for the Detroit Red Wings. He’s an excellent defensive center who should be a lock to score more than ten goals and 30 points, but the question was whether or not he was what Detroit actually needed.

As Shayna Goldman wrote for The Athletic (subscription) on July 1:

“But does Detroit signing [Compher] make sense? The Red Wings have a ton of cap space, but their direction right now is a bit confusing. It feels like the Red Wings should be taking big swings to address their offense first, then addressing their roster elsewhere with the remaining openings and cap space. It all just feels underwhelming right now…”

That, of course, came before Yzerman went out and traded for Alex DeBrincat. That was the kind of swing that, had it happened before free agency started, would have made the Compher signing much more palatable. Things didn’t happen in that order. They’re both Detroit-bound now, though, and the Red Wings could end up boasting some formidable depth if the likes of Michael Rasmussen and Joe Veleno take steps forward.

This is a 28-year-old center who beat reporters for teams such as the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals had circled as a possible answer for their middle-of-the-lineup holes. One gets the feeling that those organizations would have been heralded for keeping Compher’s cap hit at $5.1 million. The Detroit Red Wings needing more talent on the NHL roster doesn’t take away from what the former Stanley Cup winner will bring to the Motor City once the regular season kicks off in October.

(All stats appear courtesy of NHL.com and quanthockey.com)

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