Now that the John Mitchell era is clearly coming to an end, the J.T. Compher era is just beginning. It will provide an upgrade for the Avalanche in an almost identical role.
Mitchell is finishing his fifth season with the Avs and his third under his current contract, which expires at the end of this season, leaving him an unrestricted free agent. At 32, Mitchell’s scoring statistics have slowly been declining since the 2013-14 season, when he scored 32 points just before signing his current contract.
It’s apparent Mitchell isn’t in the Avalanche’s plans for several reasons. Colorado waived Mitchell twice this season in hopes of another team taking the declining depth center off of their hands. That never happened.
So, the Avalanche have been forced to keep Mitchell on their roster, despite him no longer being the hard-forechecker he once was. After being designated as a healthy scratch on several occasions, Mitchell has continually struggled to provide any resemblance of offensive production, making the Avalanche’s decision to move forward without Mitchell an easy one.
The young talent the Avalanche have brought into their lineup is another key indicator that the team is ready to move on from Mitchell. Avs general manager Joe Sakic made it clear the Avalanche will move towards a younger group in the near future and that youth movement has already begun, particularly at the center position. The emergence of J.T. Compher and the signing of former first-round pick Tyson Jost is showing Colorado’s commitment to focusing on its young up-and-comers.
Compher’s strong season with the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio earned him the chance to prove himself in the NHL. He scored 13 goals and 17 assists in 41 appearances, showcasing plenty of his skill and allowing the Avalanche to deem him worthy of a chance in the show.
Much like a younger, sprier Mitchell, Compher’s pressure on the forecheck is fast, aggressive and fiery. His play in the defensive end of the ice is dependable and effective.
Offensively, Compher is supposed to have more upside than Mitchell ever had but, of course, it’s hard to compare statistics as Compher is still acclimating to the NHL game. If comparing each of their first-season totals in the AHL is any consolation, then Compher is likely to be a more potent offensive force.
In Mitchell’s first year with the Toronto Marlies he played 51 games scoring five goals and twelve assists.
As Compher’s NHL game count has increased his minutes have increased as well. The coaching staff is comfortable using Compher as needed and will gradually worry less about his play. This is apparent in coach Jared Bednar’s use of Compher on a line with two of the team’s best players: Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene. The coaches see the potential in Compher and trust him with the important top-six minutes. This is something rarely seen from a player who will finish the season with less than 25 games played.
The door is almost closed on the worst season in the history of the Colorado Avalanche. With it will go a group of players that have hurt this team more than helped it. The Avs have found a light in all that darkness, however, by allowing the next generation of talent to show what they are made of at the NHL level.
This period of tryouts, call-ups, and auditions will give Sackic, Bednar and company the chance to see what they have in their developmental prospects and get a glimpse at what their future might hold.
John Mitchell will likely be sacrificed as a piece of that transition. While his stint in Colorado wasn’t atrocious by any means, it is clear his time here is up.
It is also clear that J.T. Compher has a lot to offer the Avalanche and his time is now. Compher is not just an upgrade on what John Mitchell is, but on what John Mitchell was as well.
The Compher for Mitchell exchange is being handled mostly by Father Time, but it is an overall step in the right direction, moving the Avalanche towards their ultimate return to contention.