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NHL draft tracker: JT Compher, U.S. under-18 team

Compher will matriculate at the University of Michigan this season (Tom Sorensen photo)

At an early age, JT Compher realized a strength can also be a weakness.

The NHL draft prospect, these days, has earned high marks for playing a give-no-quarter game, relying on his speed to play the quintessential 200-foot game. The University of Michigan-bound grad of the U.S. national team development program also garnishes that by being an agitator, having come by that quality after seeing it used against him during his younger days.

"I try not to go after the wrong guy but getting in some guys’ heads is part of my game," says the 5-foot-10½, 184-pound Compher, who's projected as a late first or second-round pick in the June 30 NHL draft. "When I was younger, I always played with a lot of passion and some guys were able to get under my skin. I saw that it could be effective and I turned it around to my advantage."

Compher, as a relatively polished player for an 18-year-old, profiles as a safe pick by virtue of his maturity and his awareness of where he would fit into the NHL. The typical questions that crop up with a two-way forward who's modest is frame is whether he possesses the durability and NHL-level offensive skill. Compher was injured for part of the season, but posted a respectable 18-goal, 49-point statline in 55 games for the U.S. under-18 team, whose schedule includes games against NCAA Division I teams with much more seasoned players.

The Northbrook, Ill., native notes he will need to develop his strength over the next two seasons as he stays in Ann Arbor, Mich., to wear the Michigan Wolverines' famed maize and blue.

"In college, you get the time to work out and definitely develop your strength, same as do you with the national program," Compher says. "That's really important for me."

1. How would you say your past season progressed, from start to finish?

"My strength is something that’s going to come and it’s something that I’m going to work on. Be a little stronger on my skates. I find myself in the gritty areas – in the corners, in front of the nets – quite a bit so I just want to be solid there and be able to work against."

2. Whom in the NHL watch do you study because his (their) game is like the one you will have to play to reach and stay at that level?

"Being from Chicago, I love watching [Blackhawks captain] Jonathan Toews. He is a great two-way player, really strong defensively along with having some of the greatest skill in the world. But I think I compare myself a little to Ryan Callahan of the Rangers. He plays an agitating game, he’s a hard worker, he’s about my size and he’s a leader on his team. That’s a guy I try to emulate."

3. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?

"Last year, going to the [IIHF] U18s as a ’95 and helping the ’94 division win the gold medal. That was a great experience. This year, winning a silver medal was a great experience. We were close to winning that fifth straight in a gold medal."

4.USA Hockey had turned out four under-18 champion teams in a row before finishing second to Canada; not getting what you want is part of being an athlete, so how did you digest that result?

"We know that it ended on our watch and it was not an easy game to take. We were all upset. The Canadians had a great team, amazing depth and good goaltending [with Rimouski's Philippe Desrosiers]. Overall, I was proud of how we battled back in that game after struggling early in the tournament, coming back to be within one goal of that gold medal.."

5. Fun one to finish off with: if hockey did not exist, what sport would you play?

"I would be playing, probably baseball. My dad was my coach up until high school. I really enjoyed being out there with my buddies in the sun. It was always a lot of fun. I have some great memories of playing."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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