J.T. Compher

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Avalanche crush Golden Knights in first game without Rantanen: 3 takeaways

The Colorado Avalanche are sending a pretty strong message to the rest of the Western Conference — and the league as a whole — in the first month of the season.

That message: All of the preseason hype was accurate.

They played their first game without star forward Mikko Rantanen on Friday night and never missed a beat in a complete demolition of the Vegas Golden Knights, rolling to a 6-1 win that was as one-sided as any game in the NHL this season. It was already the third time this season Colorado has scored at least six goals in a single game, while they owned a commanding 40-26 edge on the shot chart.

What all stood out?

1. Nathan MacKinnon‘s point streak continues. With two assists on Friday, MacKinnon was able to extend his points streak to 10 consecutive games to open the season. He officially extended it with a helper on Cale Makar‘s first career regular season goal, then added another helper on Nazem Kadri‘s power play goal. MacKinnon already has 14 points in the Avalanche’s first 10 games this season and continues to be a dominant force in the middle of their lineup. Just for comparisons sake he only had five points through the first 10 games in 2017-18 (when he finished with 97 points in 74 games) and 15 points a year ago (when he finished with 99 points in 82 games.

2. The improved depth is a game changer. With MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog the Avalanche have had the most dominant top line in the league for a couple of years now, but one line can only take a team so far. They needed help around them, and the Avalanche addressed that over the summer. Their second line on Friday featured all new additions with Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Joonas Donskoi, and all have already made significant contributions this season. Kadri alone scored two goals on Friday. That has allowed everyone else to get pushed down into more suitable roles and created a far more balanced lineup.

3. Cale Makar already looks like a star. With Tyson Barrie now in Toronto the Avalanche have turned a lot of their blue line over to the youngsters Makar and Sam Girard. Makar has been spectacular this year and was especially dominant on Friday. He scored a goal — giving him nine points in 10 games — and helped the Avalanche control close to 70 percent of the total shot attempts when he was on the ice. He figures to be a player in the Rookie of the Year race all season and is a huge addition to an already great core.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Avs get first taste of life without Rantanen against Golden Knights

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Learning that Mikko Rantanen is most likely week-to-week, rather than month-to-month, after a scary-looking injury was mostly cause for a sigh of relief from the Colorado Avalanche.

Still, being without a star player for several games is far from ideal, and the Avs aren’t exactly getting eased into that grind, as they face a tough opponent in the Golden Knights in Vegas on Friday.

Early on, it appears as though J.T. Compher is the winner of the replacing Rantanen sweepstakes, as he’ll slide into a first-line role with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. While line juggling is common in the modern NHL, the Avs’ top line has been practically glued together, particularly the duo of MacKinnon and Rantanen. Via Natural Stat Trick, MacKinnon’s played 2,700 minutes with Rantanen and a bit less than 523 minutes without him since 2017-18.

While the Avs’ top line has been synchronized with each other, Compher noted to the Avs website that he’s been used to moving around the lineup.

“Over the last few years I have played with a lot of different guys in a lot of different spots,” Compher said. “For me when I get put in a new spot, it is not too different. Just trying to play my game, play with speed, hard on pucks, creating turnovers and the more I can get it in Landy and MacK’s hands, the better we are going to be.”

In particular, Compher’s shot might help him produce with those top players:

Speaking of different guys in different spots, this will also serve as an opportunity for the continued growth of the Avs’ supporting cast.

As great as Rantanen and MacKinnon have been in helping Colorado to a 7-1-1 start with 12 points apiece, the Avs are less one-dimensional than they’ve been in the past thanks to a hot start from the likes of Andre Burakovsky, who ties rising star defenseman Cale Makar for third place in team scoring with eight points.

The Avalanche’s top power play unit still seems pretty stout on paper, via Left Wing Lock: MacKinnon, Landeskog, Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, and Samuel Girard.

The Avs are getting dragged into this, but nonetheless, Rantanen’s injury serves as an impetus to experiment with different combinations. It will still likely hurt in the short term, yet finding different groups and styles that work might come in handy if Colorado makes it a third straight year of playoff berths.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins advance; Avalanche survive

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  • The Blue Jackets were able to sweep the Lightning in front of their home fans in Columbus. Now their season is over as they fell in Game 6 against Boston at that same arena. The Bruins move on to face the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
  • While the East half of Round 3 is set, the West side is still totally unsettled. The Sharks didn’t fall easily on Monday, but the Avalanche grabbed a gutsy OT win to send this series to Game 7.

Bruins 3, Blue Jackets 0 (Boston wins series 4-2)

Charlie McAvoy only receiving a two-minute minor for his hit on Josh Anderson was a big part of the Game 6 storyline, no doubt. But, really, Tuukka Rask strangled any chance for the Blue Jackets to rally around the anger of not getting a call they believed they deserved. David Krejci managed the lone goal of the first 40 minutes of this one, and Sergei Bobrovsky allowed two quick goals in the third period to sap any last-minute drama. Columbus has some things to build on going forward, even with Bobrovsky and others possibly leaving, but the Bruins get the upper hand.

Avalanche 4, Sharks 3 (Series tied 3-3; Game 7 airs at 9 pm. ET on Wednesday on NBCSN [stream here])

This was a fascinating game. The Avs managed leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, yet the Sharks just kept fighting back. When Game 6 went to overtime, there was at least a faint feeling that San Jose was going to stun Colorado in its own building. Instead, Gabriel Landeskog scored the overtime game-winner, forcing a Game 7 in this series. Two unsung heroes loomed large in Game 6, and they follow Rask in the three stars below …

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask

Rask already turned heads with strong work during the Bruins’ Round 2 series against the Blue Jackets, but Game 6 might count as his best performance yet. While Rask enjoyed a little bit of luck from posts hitting his posts, he was still incredibly sharp for Boston, and thus outrageously frustrating for the Blue Jackets. Rask generated a 39-save shutout to close out Columbus, and the occasionally-criticized goalie is cementing his status as a true difference-maker for a Bruins team eyeing a glorious run.

2. J.T. Compher

Heading into Game 6 for Colorado, Compher had one three-point game to his career, yet he scored two goals and one assist at the most crucial time, with the Avalanche facing down elimination. Check these highlights and decide for yourself: is his assist to Tyson Jost to open scoring the best of Compher’s three points, or was it the 3-2 goal where he showed some pretty impressive hands?

That 3-2 goal sure seemed like it would be the game-winner, except an equally unlikely hero forced the issue for San Jose …

3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Again, Vlasic can be a “likely” hero for his work in his own end. And, really, Vlasic was his usual, defensive-defenseman-dynamo self against Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, his most frequent opponents in Game 6. Yes, Landeskog scored an overtime game-winner, but generally speaking, the Sharks did a great job of limiting that dangerous trio’s chances. Vlasic was a big part of that.

Few would have expected Vlasic to be so prolific offensively, though.

Vlasic scored two goals for the Sharks while firing three SOG, blocking four shots, and managing two takeaways in Game 6. Impressive stuff, even if San Jose couldn’t quite close out Colorado.

Oh, by the way, this is only the second two-goal game of Vlasic’s career, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Again, it was a rare night.

Factoids

TUESDAY’S GAME 7

Game 7: Dallas Stars at St. Louis Blues (series tied 3-3; 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN [stream here])

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Compher, Avalanche force Game 7 against Sharks

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Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog scored the overtime-clincher in Game 6 to push the San Jose Sharks to a Game 7. Leave it to the Avs’ captain to cap a night that was often dominated by unsung heroes.

J.T. Compher scored two goals and one assist in Game 6, nearly lined up Erik Karlsson for a big hit, and generally played the game of his life. To give you an idea of how rare nights like these have been for Compher at this level, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes that Compher had just one three-point game in his entire NHL career coming into Game 6.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a bigger name than Compher, what with winning a gold medal for Canada and frequently being named as one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL, at least before slowing down just a bit lately. Still, you wouldn’t expect Vlasic to score two goals in a single contest, but that’s exactly what he did in Game 6, including the tally that sent things to OT.

Landeskog didn’t need much time to score in overtime:

The Avalanche built leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, but the Sharks kept finding ways to tie things up. Colorado didn’t flinch in the face of sudden death, however, and the Avs thus avoided elimination.

There are some lingering storylines and situations to monitor heading into Game 7, which airs at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday (NBCSN; stream here).

  • Will Nathan MacKinnon be able to put his frustrations behind him? The Avs superstar’s scoring struggles have gotten to him at times, as he’s looked furious on the bench and leaving the ice.
  • Is Mikko Rantanen really OK? He returned to Game 6 after a hard hit from Brent Burns, but Rantanen’s mobility looked pretty limited when he returns.
  • Can the Avalanche contain Timo Meier? While Meier was only credited with an assist in Game 6, he created havoc on all of the Sharks’ goals, using his creativity and physicality to really make life miserable for Colorado.

While the 2019 Eastern Conference Final is set at Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes, both West series are heading to Game 7’s, as Dallas Stars – St. Louis Blues is also going the distance. The Avalanche are generally a younger, less proven team than the Sharks, but they’re absolutely playing like they belong. Even the guys not named Nathan MacKinnon.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.