The Colborne Comeback?

As has been stated many times in the past few weeks, the Toronto Marlies are a drastically different looking team than they were before the NHL lockout came to a close. Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin are playing like everything people were hoping for and more on the Leafs. Mike Kostka, Mark Fraser, and Korbinian Holzer are holding the fort on defence. Ben Scrivens is between the pipes, backing up (and with injuries, temporarily leap frogging) James Reimer, and thanks to the waiver process, Keith Aucoin is in Long Island Hockey Prison.

It’s certainly made the Marlies a worse team on paper, but that’s not a bad thing. If it anything, it gives the rookie players actual games to play in, and the guys who were overshadowed by their NHL current-calibre peers some improved minutes to show they’re capable. One of these players is Joe Colborne.

Hopes were high when he was acquired from the Boston Bruins. Those hopes exploded when he started last season by winning AHL player of the month. Suddenly, his production hit a tailspin. It lasted the entirety of the season, and everyone was lost. Not only was the high-flying Colborne gone, even the medium-flying one from the end of the season prior was gone. But where did it disappear to?


As it turns out, Colborne suffered an injury to his wrist in late November. In what seems to be a recording for the Maple Leafs organization, the decided upon move was to try to play through it. Not exactly the best of ideas to play through a severe injury to the part of your body that controls your biggest strength (puck control and dispersal), but it happened.

Going into this season, Colborne struggled out of the gate, scoring just four points in his first nine games. At this point, Dallas Eakins sat him out. Part of it was “rotational”, trying to get other players in, but you also knew it was performance related to. And it appeared to work – he scored his first goal of the year the very next game. But the honeymoon didn’t last long. For the next month, Colborne was held completely pointless, playing 11 games and being scratched in two more. On pace to finish the season with less than 20 points, something had to change, and fast. Suddenly, things began to click again.

By no means has the player of the month (16 points in 9 games) pace returned, but what we’ve seen since December 16th is very reminiscent of the first glimpse of him. After just a goal and five assists in his first 22 games, he’s put 5 in the back of the net, and set up 14 others in the next 21. But is there a particular reason for his success? I broke down the points, and here’s what I found.

  • There is absolutely no go-to playmaker on any of his goals. Not one person has multiple assists on a Joe Colborne goal since the start of this point streak.
  • Players who scored as a result of his assists are pretty evenly spread too. In those 14 assists, there are 9 different goal scorers. Keith Aucoin, Ryan Hamilton, Paul Ranger, Spencer Abbott, and Tim Connolly all have a pair, while Carter Ashton, Jesse Blacker, Greg McKegg, and Nicolas Deschamps all finished once on a Colborne assist.
  • Looking at players who had assists ont he same goal as Colborne, Mike Kostka leads the pack with three. Ranger and Jake Gardiner have a pair, and four others have a single assist.
  • 13 of the 19 points were scored on the powerplay. Five were even strength, and one lone goal was an empty netter.

Looking at people on the ice for goals in which Colborne notched a point, 25 different Marlies players have done so. This shows just how many players Toronto has gone through this season, when you consider that’s in less than a two month span, and several players have missed out on this trend. Secondarily, you can further break that statistic down.

  • Ranger has been on with Colborne for more points than any other player, being involved 11 times.
  • Hamilton leads all forwards in this regard, joining Joe for 10.
  • Carter Ashton was only on for three goals, but in all three cases, both of them got points.
  • Mike Kostka left for Leafs camp after Toronto’s January 8th game against Hamilton. Prior to that, he was on the ice for 7 of the 9 points in Colborne’s streak. The two he missed? One was a minute into the game, the second was an empty net goal.
  • The minute in goal, in fact, was the only point Joe Colborne had without Mike Kostka on the ice with him between November 10th and the empty netter on January 5th.
  • After Kostka’s disappearance, Abbott took charge as Colborne’s partner in crime. Despite not being on the ice for any prior points, he was on for the next five.
  • Mike Zigomanis (5) and Aucoin (7), have also been on for a significant chunk of Colborne’s production

What I took in most from the linemate stats is the involvement of Kostka and Abbott. While Colborne’s recent production has become more evenly divided, there’s no doubt in my mind that these two helped him back into a groove. While Abbott is a winger and Kostka is a defenceman, puck moving and playmaking is a major component of their AHL-level games, much like Colborne. Having a second player to get creative with, whether it leads to them both getting points or not, made something happen.

With the confidence that was almost assuredly gained, Colborne has been able to set up plays, whether they lead to points or not, much more effectively than in previous months. As such, he’s not only been given newfound minutes – he’s been earning them. Whether you think the recent run is just a hot streak repairing a previous cold streak, or that this is a return to relevance is your call. But one thing is clear – he’s once again got the opportunity to succeed gift-wrapped to him, and so far, he’s taken it.

Colborne and the Marlies play tonight at 7PM against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Photo courtesy TSG Photo