September 29 2013 10:49AM
Although we figured Joe Colborne might be a throw-in piece for a John Michael Liles trade, the Flames instead acquired the former first rounder for a conditional fourth round pick instead.
Colborne ticks all the boxes for the Flames. A 6'5" centerman, the 23 year old is a Calgary native who played in the AJHL before going off to college for the University of Denver, where he scored 31 and 41 points in his freshman and sophomore seasons.. Originally picked by Weisbrod and the Bruins 16th overall in 2008, he was then was acquired by Burke in a trade involving Tomas Kaberle. Appropriately, I chose Colborne as a key comparable to Mark Jankowski back when the Flames chose the latter 21st overall.
Although Colborne is a big boy, he's not a guy who will bang bodies or drop the gloves. His game is often described as patient, methodical and pass-first. Others say he lacks intensity, which is likely why his stock has fallen since his draft year. Although his output in college was above average, Colborne has yet to really manage noteworthy numbers as a pro player.
Part of that may be due to a strange wrist injury he endured for most of the 2011-12. He began the year leading the Marlies with 19 points in 11 games, but trailed off drastically in January, eventually finishing with 16 goals and 23 assists in 61 contests. I was revealed that summer that Colborne had torn ligaments and broken bone in his wrist which required rehab and surgery. Corey Pronman, who ranked Colborne as the Leafs second best prospect at the time, describes the drop-off here:
Colborne had easily one of the weirdest seasons of any drafted prospect this year. In the early months, he was tearing up the AHL like it was nobody's business, and then he fell off dramatically for a large portion of the season. Normally, this production variance can be the cause of statistical randomness, but his play and how he looked to scouts went from an extreme high to an extreme low, which is quite unusual. This may have been because of a wrist injury that he disclosed and had surgery for at the end of the season.
In 2012-13, Colborne finished second on the Marlies in scoring with 14 goals and 42 points in 62 games, which is good but doesn't exactly scream future NHL point-getter. This is likely why the Leafs decided to move on from the player: Colborne isn't a crash and bang grinder, but he's not yet at the level where you can expect him to anchor a scoring line in the NHL. He's also waiver eligible and the cap-strapped Leafs couldn't leave handing around the NHL roster in hopes he'd eventually work his way up the depth chart. So when they decided he wasn't going to be a top-6 player, his fate was in that org was sealed.
For the Flames organization, this is another arrow in the quiver. Although there's no guarantee that Colborne will turn out to be anything above replacement level, Calgary's depth chart down the middle has gone from Backlund-Stajan-Horak-Reinhart to Backlund-Stajan-Monahan-Knighty-Colborne-Horak-Reinhart in the space of a few months and at minimal expense. The tea, doesn't need all of those guys to turn out, but with each new body they increase the chances that at least one of them will.
As mentioned, Colborne will be exposed to waivers should he be demoted to the AHL, so he's on the roster to stay. That likely means a few of the remaining hopefuls - Ben Street, Roman Horak - are destined for re-assignment today or tomorrow. This probably also means Horak will shift to wing permanently. The center ice position is becoming increasingly crowded at the minor league and bottom-6 NHL levels (allthe above names plus Markus Granlund) so his best bet at this point would be shifting to right wing, a position he had some success in last year with the Heat.
As for Colborne, he slots in on the Flames third or fourth line to start the year despite his less than ideal temperament for conventional bottom-6 roles. I personally think the true goal in building a roster would be to construct four scoring lines and that giving up a potential middle-tier offensive centerman because he can't enthusiastically hurt people is ridiculous, but that's just me. Probably the best role for Colborne would be as a relatively sheltered third liner with capable line mates. Some potential combinations:
- Baertschi - Colborne - Jones
- Galiardi - Colborne - Hudler
- Baertschi - Colborne - Stempniak
Finally, the Colborne addition makes things a little crowded for Sean Monahan, which is actually good news. It creates an environment where the team doesn't feel obligated to keep the kid around the rest of the season - one where he'll have to legitimately outplay one of Backlund, Stajan or Colborne to stick around long-term. If he does that, then the kid probably belongs in the show. If not, it's back to juniors where he can tear it up and play in the WJ championships. Also, it means we won't have to Hartley try to convert TJ Galiardi to a pivot.
Overall, I like the move a lot. The price was minimal and the player has upside. He may never manage to live up to his draft pedigree, but even if Colborne becomes at capable bottom-6 centerman, he has a lot of useful years ahead of him.