Recently at the inaugural CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game, J.T. Compher was asked by a media outlet to pose for a few different video shoots.
Compher, a center with the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team, had no problem striking the right poses.
As much as hockey comes naturally to Compher, modeling could be a close second.
"When I was younger I did toddler modeling and I was on the front of a catalog," Compher told NHL.com. "I got to keep the red scooter that I was modeling. That was pretty cool."
Compher said he can't remember what company the catalog was from, only that he was 3 or 4 years old at the time and got a pretty cool new toy out of the deal.
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"It sticks out because I got to keep the tricycle," he said. "We still had it in my garage a couple years ago. I think we finally gave it away to someone who could use it."
Compher said it was the only time he's done any modeling, but since then he's found a new way to entertain the cameras, and no doubt this will land him on the covers of a few more publications.
The 17-year-old forward is ranked as an A skater in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list for the 2013 NHL Draft, and scouts have been drawn to his skill and tenacity.
"When you look at the package that J.T. has, it's skill, it's a competitive spirit," NHL Network analyst Craig Button told NHL.com. "The biggest thing is, you watch a player that can skate and make plays, but he does it at high speed and at pace and tempo. He's just a threatening player when he has the puck. And when he doesn’t have the puck, he wants the puck."
Compher showed enough of his skill last season to star on the NTDP U-17 team as well as on the U-18 team. He led the U-17 team last season with 27 assists in 40 games, and was second with 53 points. That earned him 14 games with the U-18 team, where he had six goals and three assists. He also excelled in international play, helping the United States win a silver medal at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge by leading the team with six assists and nine points, and he had five points and a plus-7 rating in six games as the United States won the gold at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
"He's just an outstanding, competitive player, and he plays to win," Don Granato, who coached Compher on the USNTDP U-17 team last season and has him on the U-18 team this season, told NHL.com. "He's a very good, solid two-way center right now. He's hard to play against, ends up plus in a game. Last year, as a 15-, 16-year-old kid, against [older] USHL kids, matching him up against top lines there, he was a natural competitor and good in the faceoff circle and along the walls, and has a lot of grit. He's got a lot of NHL attributes. He loves the grind factor. He has enough skill to make plays."
He's found them a bit easier to make this season thanks to a far better summer than the one he had prior to his arrival at the NTDP last year. About three weeks before he was set to move from his family's home in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Ill., to the NTDP campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., he learned that his father, Bob, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Surgery was scheduled for the week after Compher left.
Like any other child, Compher was ready to put his hockey dreams on hold to do whatever he could to help the family. Valerie, J.T.'s mother, wasn't going to have that. The bags were packed and plans weren't changing.
"There was some emotion, but my dad and my mom didn't want to hear it," J.T. said. "They said they'd be fine and that I needed to … cancer obviously is always life-threatening, but it was early stage and wasn't as bad as it could have been. It's still scary for me and my [two younger] sisters. But my mom said there's no way you're staying -- you have to go."
So J.T. made the nearly five-hour move west to Ann Arbor, and had to find out on the phone that his father's surgery had gone well. A year later, Bob Compher is healed up and cancer free.
"My dad is doing really well," J.T. said. "He's back at work. We were golfing a lot during the summer. … He's feeling a lot better and I'm really happy about that.
"When I came in, there was so much on your plate going to the national team. You're practicing every day, which I wasn't used to. You're on the road a lot. I was a little busy there, so I didn't have too much time to think about it. But this year I'm strictly on hockey and I don't have to worry about anything back home, which is a big relief."
With no family issues at home to worry about, J.T. has been able to shift his full focus to the ice, and his early performance shows it. He had two goals and an assist in four USHL preseason games, and played extremely well at the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo. He was a plus-1 on a Team Housley squad that lost 5-2 to Team McClanahan. He had two shots on goal, a team-high four hits, blocked a shot and won five faceoffs.
"He's a high-skilled guy that has a great work ethic," an NHL scout from an Eastern Conference team told NHL.com. "He plays the game with a lot of passion. He takes a lot of pride in being a difference-maker, and I think that's very big."
Added another scout from an Eastern Conference team: "He's very promising. He can finish. He's competitive. He's got size. He's a prototypical pro prospect."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK