The increasingly physical play at Sabres Development Camp has been well-documented. The young players seem intent on checking and “taking the body” whenever possible. Few have embodied this spirit more than J.T. Compher.
Despite standing just 5-foot-11 and weighing 190 pounds, Compher does not hold back in throwing his body around and has even traded shoves and words with a few of the other players throughout the week.
“I think that’s why Buffalo brought me in, to compete hard and do everything I can to win battles,” Compher said. “That’s what I’m trying to do in camp. Sometimes I get into it with guys, but it’s just hockey. It’s nothing personal.”
But there is more to the forward’s game than physicality and energy. The Illinois native had quite a freshman year at the University of Michigan in 2013-14. In his inaugural Big Ten season, he led the Wolverines in points with 31 in 35 games.
Compher was named to the All-Big-Ten second team and earned the first Big Ten Freshman of the Year award after leading the team to an 18-13-4 record.
While pleased with his freshman season, he deflects credit to his teammates and said the team didn’t reach its ultimate goal: a conference championship.
“It just comes down to me getting the opportunity to play,” Compher said. “I got a good opportunity where I got some playing time with some really good players. My line really helped me. The award is nice, but it’s not what I was looking for. We were trying to win a conference championship.”
The Sabres acquired Compher with the 35th overall pick of the 2013 draft after trading defenseman Andrej Sekera to the Carolina Hurricanes for the pick and defenseman Jamie McBain.
Considering the Sabres didn’t extend a qualifying offer to McBain after a year of service and Sekera was named Hurricanes team MVP by the local chapter of the Pro Hockey Writers Association, Compher has a lot to live up to.
He knows he will have to bring plenty to the table as a player, and he believes his versatility is his strength.
“I can be put in any role,” Compher said. “I’m predominantly a center, but if I need to play wing or if I need to be relied on to score, play penalty kill or play defense, I like to think I can do all those roles.”
While Compher knows the Sabres specifically targeted him in last year’s draft, he doesn’t think about the trade much. He’s just trying to make the most of his chance at an NHL career.
With his performance at Michigan and at development camp, he’s off to a good start.
“I think anytime a team takes a chance on you as a draft pick in any situation, it means they have confidence in you and they want you to play a role on their team at some point,” Compher said. “The trade isn’t even really on my mind much. A chance to make this team at some point is all I ask for, and that’s something they’re giving me as a draft pick. I hope I can make the most of it.”
Thursday was a power skating session for the prospects.
The session was led by power skating coach Dawn Braid and featured very little puck work and virtually no contact. Players were put through various drills aimed at improving skating technique and ability.
Sabres Development Camp concludes today with a three-on-three tournament from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.