J.T. Compher Has Been Red Wings’ Best Free Agent Addition

The Hockey Writers

When Steve Yzerman took over as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings in 2019, the team was in disarray. Coming off a second straight missed postseason, Detroit’s cupboard was bare of talented playmakers, and the future looked dim. Critics began to point out that the organization no longer attracted high-end free-agent talent due to an underwhelming roster that was frequently finishing at the bottom of the standings. Fast forward to 2023, and “The Yzerplan” is beginning to take shape. 

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Signing free agents David Perron, Shayne Gostisbehere and Daniel Sprong have injected new life into the rebuild and have made a positive impact on a team that plans to make a playoff run. The signing of free agent Patrick Kane earlier this week solidified the fact that Yzerman views his club as a postseason contender. Yet, one under-the-radar signing by the team legend is making a difference this season: Joseph Taylor Compher.

JT Compher Detroit Red Wings
JT Compher, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Signing the eight-year veteran during the offseason has already paid massive dividends for a team that has been desperately searching for a legitimate second-line center since Yzerman took over in the Motor City. Detroit thought they had found that player in free-agent pivot Andrew Copp, but Compher has filled the role on a team that has struggled to find consistent offensive success.

Compher Is Money Well Spent

Yzerman inked the former University of Michigan star to a five-year deal with a $5.1 million average annual value (AAV) – a move that some fans questioned. Is Compher worth that much? Yzerman is known not to favor long-term deals, but he saw something in Compher’s game that other teams didn’t – an offensively competent center who can play up and down the lineup with a strong 200-foot game and can shut down the opposition’s toughest threats. It may have helped that he had a familiar friend in captain Dylan Larkin, as the two were teammates in Ann Arbor not too long ago.

Related: Red Wings’ Best Free Agent Signings of the Past 20 Years

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Compher spent the previous seven seasons with the Colorado Avalanche in a versatile role that expanded over his time in the Mile High City. Last season saw a significant surge in his ice time as a very effective second-line centerman for a Cup-contending team. He skated more than 400 minutes with Avalanche superstar Mikko Rantanen and produced a career-high 52 points while being a key component of the penalty kill.

Those types of players don’t grow on trees, and Yzerman recognized that during the offseason. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a Cup winner who played a pivotal role in the Avs’ 2022 title. Nazem Kadri was the second-line center during this run, but he sat out the first three games of the Final with a nagging injury. No problem. Compher filled in admirably, assisting on the overtime winner in Game 1.

J.T. Compher Colorado Avalanche
J.T. Compher, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Compher has picked up right where he left off in his new role with the Red Wings, producing 19 points in the team’s first 23 games. His offensive numbers have been a delightful bonus, and he’s been an important asset up and down the lineup as head coach Derek Lalonde continues to juggle the lines during the first quarter of the season. His versatility on the penalty kill has also helped the Red Wings rise up the Atlantic Division leaderboard as the team tries to return to the postseason for the first time since the 2015-16 season. He has rotated into all four lines, starting on the top line this past week – with Larkin out for personal reasons – and hasn’t looked one bit out of place. Compher has been worth every penny so far.

Can he keep up his nearly point-per-game pace? That is a big question mark, and looking at his track record, it doesn’t appear likely. If the Red Wings can get 50-60 points out of the former third-round pick’s offensive game, then they’ve already hit the jackpot.

Adding Kane into the mix may force him down Lalonde’s lineup card, but that won’t be an issue for Compher as he has already proved to be an effective playmaker alongside anyone he plays with. He’s averaging 18:49 of ice time (TOI), down from the over 20 minutes a night he was playing in Colorado, but his offensive game has blossomed now that he’s surrounded by some familiar faces in the Red Wings lineup.

Let’s also not forget his defensive game – another Yzerman staple. He ranks fourth on the team with a plus-7. No one will question his effort and hustle on the ice, and he hasn’t been one to shy away from the physical game. Compher has been everything and more for the Red Wings this season.

“You want to help produce — any player that says they don’t, they’re lying,” Compher said. “It’s part of it. But I pride myself on a lot more than just points. I try to be a dependable two-way player, 200 feet, so just trying to continue to focus on that” (from ‘As Red Wings roll, J.T. Compher’s early success has answered Detroit’s 2C question’, The Athletic, Dec 2nd, 2023). Yzerman has made it clear that he thinks this team can earn a playoff berth this season, and Compher is the type of player who can help Detroit get there. The GM has been through his fair share of playoff battles and knows what it takes to make a run.

Related: Are the Red Wings Truly a Playoff-Caliber Team?

While there’s a lot of season left, Red Wings fans are finally starting to see Yzerman’s vision. The only players who are signed with the team past the 2026-27 season are Larkin and Compher, meaning he is considered a big piece of the puzzle that the organization is continually piecing together.

How will it all play out with the addition of Kane? It’s hard to say, but we will likely see Compher moving up and down the lineup. Detroit fans can’t resist the excitement that it’s creating, and it’s been a long time since they felt that way. The “search for the second-line center may be over.” It just may be. Sounds like a Disney movie – hopefully a good one with a magical ending for Yzerman’s team.

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