Argument for Colborne as a top six centre

1 Apr

Joe Colborne

Just over two years have passed since Joe Colborne joined the Leafs AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies, and over that time Toronto fans have seen many highs and lows for the large centre. In a city where players are quick to be labelled as busts Colborne, 23 years old since January, is begun to be forgotten in the minds of the common Leaf fan. Here at LeafsHero we look to shine a light on what Colborne can become, and who he already has become. By taking a look at Joe Colborne’s career scoring pace and seeing how injuries have influenced his career we think we can make a case that Colborne is ready to be a top six Centre in the NHL.

To say Leaf fans were excited the morning of February 18, 2011 would be an understatement. Veteran Leaf defender and fan favourite Tomas Kaberle had finally made his long awaited departure from Toronto, and the return was higher than the experts at TSN had expected, which was a first rounder and a low end prospect, or a higher potential prospect with a second round pick. In the months leading up the trade, Kaberle had gone from being an elite puck-moving defenseman capable of 20 minutes a night and first power play duties to a shell of his former self, struggling to find a role on a weak Leafs team. His struggles only became more obvious as Kaberle struggled during the Bruins cup run, having some say the Bruins won the cup despite Kaberle as opposed to with him. The Bruins let Kaberle walk as a free agent that summer, and less than two years after winning the Stanley Cup Kaberle finds himself on his way to the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

In return the Leafs acquired prospect Joe Colborne, a 1st round pick and a conditional pick that ended up being a 2nd rounder, which was later flipped to the Colorado Avalanche for John-Michael Liles. Some would argue that Liles’ value alone is greater than Kaberle’s at the time of the deal and more so today, but that is neither here nor there in talking about the potential of Joe Colborne. The 6’5 213lbs centre from Calgary was supposed to be a long term project for the Leafs, but the expectation was he would eventually join the NHL in a full time role.

Colborne’s Career AHL Stats
Season Team GP G A PTS +/- SOG PIM
09/10 Providence 6 0 2 2 -8 4 2
10/11 Providence 55 12 14 26 -16 92 35
10/11 Toronto 20 8 8 16 2 40 8
11/12 Toronto 65 16 23 39 0 121 46
12/13 Toronto 64 14 28 42 13 125 53

When looking at Colborne’s three years in the AHL, four if you consider his brief stint in 09/10, there isn’t any signs to think Colborne is anything more than a future AHL regular with a very slim chance of ever playing in the NHL. Three seasons of 39 to 42 points over 64 or 65 games implies that he has plateaued under the Dallas Eakins led Toronto Marlies. But this may be an example of statistics not telling the whole story.

Colborne finished the 10/11 season playing at a .8 point per game pace for the Leafs. Colborne then really picked up steam next season leading up to Christmas of 2011 where Colborne was among the scoring leaders of the AHL. Things were looking up for Colborne when the biggest setback of his career would hit him hard. Colborne tore multiple ligaments in his left wrist which forced him to play the rest of the season and Calder Cup playoffs injured. Colborne had originally hurt the wrist a month before being dealt to Toronto, tore another ligment during a brief stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2011, and would go on to injure the same wrist once more in a game against Hamilton after being sent down. Colborne did his best to deal with the pain and made the decision to continue playing the remainder of the season.

“Even after the cortisone shots, the pain was still there. We knew it was something serious,” Colborne said. “But I felt like I would be quitting on the team and leaving the boys. We knew we had a team that could win a championship. I wanted to be a part of it so badly. I didn’t want to stop playing. So it was decided that I would wait until the summer to have surgery.”

But for Colborne, things would only get worse as he then broke his finger on the same left hand. Which forced Colborne to get rid of his shot completely.

“There was no shooting in the playoffs, just straight passing,” said Colborne. “I couldn’t shoot with any power. So I looked for somebody else to shoot because if I did, the goalie was going to stop it.”

The Marlies were able to keep his injuries a secret until the Conference Finals against Oklahoma City, where they found out he had broken his finger after he took his glove off and they saw the cast he was playing with in-game.

“It was stupid on my part. After that, every faceoff I got slashed,”

With a long playoff run behind him, where he saw his team come just short of their prized Calder Cup, Colborne found out his wrist had more than just torn ligaments, but his wrist was actually broken and would need surgery over the summer.

“You would think when you break a bone in your hand it would be painful but it wasn’t any worse than the ligaments,” said Colborne. “I don’t even know when it broke.”

With his surgery a success, Colborne was looking forward to a new season, where due to the NHL lockout still ongoing, Colborne would receive added attention in the AHL and a chance to prove to the Leafs he belonged with the big club. But the pain in Colborne’s wrist persisted and he was never really able to get going until the lockout ended, losing his chance at an invite to a Maple Leafs training camp full of Marlies regulars including Kadri, Frattin, Kostka, Fraser, Hamilton and Aucoin.
It seemed like the big centre was becoming more and more of a failed project and creeping further down the road of being labelled a “bust”, until what seemed like another wrist injury saved his career. During a practise after the Christmas break Colborne felt, what he described as, a pop in his left wrist.
“Not again, it was a pretty scary moment.” Colborne thought. “I was really worried. But the pop turned out to be just scar tissue breaking down. The pop turned out to be the best thing that could have happened, From then on, I got all of my mobility back in the wrist. My shot immediately felt better. There was less pain.”
Then, as suddenly as Colborne fell off the scoring wagon he jumped back on, going from having 10 points in 28 games before the break, to having 32 points in 36 games after.
When looking at Colborne’s career in light of his wrist injury you see two completely different players.

Colborne’s stats pre-injury, during the injury and post injury

Season Injury Status GP G A PTS +/- SOG PIM PTS/GP
10/11 Pre-Injury 20 8 8 16 2 40 8 .8
11/12 Pre-Injury 13 10 9 19 8 40 0 1.46
11/12 Injury 52 6 14 20 -8 81 46 .38
12/13 Injury 28 2 8 10 7 37 33 .36
12/13 Post-Injury 36 12 20 32 6 88 20 .89

Compiling injured and non-Injured career statistics

Season Injury Status GP G A PTS +/- SOG PIM PTS/GP
10/11 to 12/13 Not Injured  69 30 37 67 16 168 28 .97
11/12 to 12/13 Injured  80 8 22 30 -1 118 79  .38
When looking at Colborne scoring pace now, it’s obvious the wrist issues were what caused the sudden disappearance of Colborne’s offense, but also his sudden re-emergence. Due to the small sample size of a healthy Colborne it’s hard to judge exactly the type of player Colborne is. If when healthy, he truly is a point per game AHL centre, who is still learning to use his size and only a couple months over 23 years of age, then there is a lot of reason for Leaf fans to have optimism about Colborne’s future in Toronto. Over the past season many high end AHL prospects have made the jump to the NHL, and in general the jump seems to be made when a prospect has been able to put up a point per game in the minors. When comparing Colborne to other young forwards (all born in ’89 or later) who made the jump from the AHL to the NHL this season, Colborne does not look out of place.
Player GP G A Pts Pts/GP
Cody Hodgson 19 5 14 19 1.00
Brendan Gallagher 36 10 10 20 .56
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 19 8 12 20 1.05
Cody Eakin 35 12 12 24 .69
Kyle Palmieri 33 13 12 25 .76
Nazem Kadri 27 8 18 26 .96
Joakim Andersson 36 10 17 27 .75
Marcus Foligno 33 10 17 27 .82
Cory Conacher 36 12 16 28 .78
Sean Couturier 31 10 18 28 .90
Jakob Silfverberg 34 13 16 29 .85
Brayden Schenn 33 13 20 33 1.00
Taylor Hall 26 14 20 34 1.30
Colborne’s .97 points per game when healthy puts him in the same tier as most of the listed forwards, obviously behind some, but also ahead of others. The list contains, almost, entirely players that have been given sizeable minutes in the NHL, while most of them are playing top-six roles with their respective clubs.
In conclusion, with any assessment of statistics there is always room for small errors to have large consequences and for it to lead to the wrong conclusion. I would think that if Colborne can maintain his near point per game pace throughout the AHL playoffs this year, then Colborne may start the 13/14 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and find himself as the teams 2nd or 3rd line centre by the end of the year. If the prospects who have made the jump ahead of him are any sign of what Colborne could become, then the Leafs may have a 50-60 point centre with size who can play a safe two-way game.

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