It’s normal to write projected lines and perceived depth charts throughout the off-season, it’s something we all do or have done in the past. As much as that works in dulling the long ache that is hockey withdrawal, less than a month into the season (or possibly even sooner) those lines become as worthless as the paper they’re written on. When it comes the Toronto Maple Leafs many projected them to begin the season with the following forward group:
James Van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – David Clarkson
Jay McClement – Dave Bolland – Nikolai Kulemin
Mason Raymond – Joe Colborne – Colton Orr
Less than a week into training camp it has already been confirmed that Frazer McLaren will not be available come opening night. In addition to that injury Orr has yet to take part in any drill due to an injured leg and Lupul only began skating yesterday. Whether those two players join McLaren on the sidelines come October 1st is yet to be determined. Injuries are a fact of every day life in the NHL and they are what make those line combinations nothing more than a waste of time.
One element of the 2013-14 Leafs team that intrigues me is the 6’5″ 230 lbs Colborne. Pencilled in to begin the season on the 4th line, the time has arrived for the former 1st round pick (16th overall in 2008) to prove capable of contributing in the NHL. There is a lot of trepidation surrounding Colborne due to his lack of production in the AHL. Just looking at the numbers though doesn’t provide an accurate representation of the player. Colborne produced extremely well when healthy with the Toronto Marlies. Prior to severely injuring his wrist in the middle of the 2011-12 season Colborne was a dominant player in the AHL and even enjoyed a brief spell with the Leafs registering 5 points in 10 games for Ron Wilson. He admirably (if not stupidly) played through said injury for the remainder of the year and was visibly limited as his numbers dropped off dramatically. The same injury plagued him to open last season and saw him record only 6 points through the opening 21 games. However, once fully healed, he returned to being a valuable offensive producer finishing the season with 33 points in his final 44 games.
Colborne finished the 2013 campaign with the Leafs and was in the lineup for both Games 6 and 7 of the first round series against the Bruins. The large pivot didn’t look out of place during that heated series seeing 15:05 in the Game 6 win and 11:51 in the devastating Game 7 collapse. What Colborne provides the Leafs (and what makes me very interested in the player) are high end offensive abilities along with his big frame. Players like Colborne are few and far between. While he is 23, and five years removed from being drafted, players of Colborne’s size and ability normally take longer to develop. If he can stay healthy, I think the Leafs have something special in him. I always have.
There are many people who wring their hands at him being the 4th line center. Personally, I have no problem with him playing in that role. First off, as mentioned above, there will always be injuries which will provide Colborne an opportunity to play with more talented players and in more suitable offensive situations. Secondly, I don’t mind Colborne getting his feet wet in the NHL as the 4th line center. Of course, that isn’t a problem as long as expectations are managed properly. People cannot criticize him if he fails to produce offense in limited minutes and with offensively challenged linemates. Like all players, Colborne is only going to produce if he is put into the proper situations to maximize his ability.
Learning the ropes and honing his defensive zone play for 12:00 to 15:00 minutes a night on the 4th line for Randy Carlyle and the Leafs is the next step for Colborne’s development. Toiling in that role until an injury allows him to play in a more suitable one is the perfect situation for both Colborne and the Leafs. Armed with a one year (one way) $600,000 deal Colborne is now either a big leaguer with the Leafs or someone who will be claimed on waivers at the end of training camp. Colborne is no longer able to pass through waivers due to his age meaning that if he does not make the Leafs he will be exposed to the other 29 teams. There is no way another team doesn’t snap up a player that possesses Colborne’s tools. Let’s hope he hits his stride in Toronto because he has the talent to haunt the Leafs down the road.