Speculation swirled that the Colorado Avalanche were in the market for a second-line center before the trade deadline.
The lack of a big-name addition confirmed what the team already knew: J.T. Compher is the established 2C. His career-best NHL season is up to 42 points following a 5-2 defeat Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings. But did Compher sweat it out last week through the trade deadline?
“Not really,” he told The Denver Gazette after morning skate from his dressing room stall Thursday at Ball Arena.
“We believe that we have a great group of guys in this locker room,” Compher explained. “A lot of guys can play up and down the lineup. We’re comfortable with what we’ve got. It’s about continuing to grow together and keep pushing for where we want to be.”
Colorado has managed to stay in the playoff chase despite a wave after wave of bad injury news, due in part to the team’s success with superstars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen separated in the lineup. Also give plenty of credit to Compher in that transition.
“It’s a lot of fun playing with Mikko. The way he thinks about the game and the plays he makes,” Compher said. “We’ve built some chemistry throughout the year and have had different guys on our line. It’s a little more responsibility. But it’s something we’ve become more comfortable with.”
Rantanen has recorded a career-best 42 goals and the majority with Compher as a teammate.
“Really easy to play with. That’s what I always appreciated,” Rantanen said. “Guys who are easy to read what they’re going to do with the puck; for me, not really for the opponent. I know where he wants me to be and what he likes to do when he gets the puck. … The chemistry builds up when you play together for a certain amount of time. It always just gets better. He likes to talk about the game, and we like to talk about plays, so that makes it even easier.”
Coach Jared Bednar added: “Right out of the gate, when we put them together this year, both of those guys started to play real well. … Seeing what (MacKinnon and Rantanen) are doing separate. It just makes the most sense for me.”
Compher played about the first 30 games anchoring the team’s third unit. His ascension in the lineup is no surprise to former linemates like Andrew Cogliano.
“There have been a handful of guys this year who have really stepped up and played to another level. (Compher) is one of those guys,” Cogliano said. “He’s had a great year. I’m very happy for him. He’s a great guy to have in the locker room and great person. But his game this year, you can tell, it’s really matured. It seems like he really accepted that role and wanted it.”
Compher approaches unrestricted free agency this summer with two potential paths.
1. Re-sign on a lengthy contract that keeps the 27-year-old in Colorado well into his 30s with the Avalanche championship window still wide open.
2. Take a deal, at a number the Avalanche likely won’t pay, to establish himself as a top-six mainstay elsewhere.
But those offseason decisions can wait. Compher is focused on helping the Avalanche making another deep playoff run. The key to his success this season?
“I’m doing things more consistently than I have in my career, both offensively and defensively,” Compher said. “It’s stuff that I thought I was capable of doing. Now, I’m just trying to be as consistent with it as possible. Being more comfortable with the puck and feeling time and pressure. I think it’s a combination of things.”
What’s next: The Avalanche (35-22-6) host the Arizona Coyotes (23-32-10), 4 p.m. Saturday (Altitude) at Ball Arena.