Making their first post-deadline roster move, the Toronto Maple Leafs have recalled Joe Colborne from the Toronto Marlies today, bringing the team back up to a full roster. Opinions are back and forth on this move. I’m in a weird spot where I see why it’s being done, but don’t necessarily agree with it being the best choice. Here are some things to consider..
He’s Relevant Again
A lot was made of Colborne’s struggles after a mind blowing month to begin last season, where he scored 16 points in his first 9 games with the Marlies and was named AHL player of the month. For the rest of the year, however, he sputtered, scoring just 23 more points in the next 56 games, combined with 8 in 15 in the playoffs. His struggles continued into this year, scoring just 2 goals and 8 assists in his first 28 games.
And then, something happened. Just before the post-lockout exodus of players to the NHL, something began to click. Or as Colborne described it, popped.
“Not again,” was the 6-foot-5 Marlies centre’s first thought. “It was a pretty scary moment. 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,” (Toronto Star)
Something, of course, being his wrist. It wasn’t apparent to the masses until after the season was over, but a nagging wrist injury was suffered in November 2011 and played through the entire year. In hindsight, probably not the best idea, and he agreed:
“Looking back now it may have been a smarter idea for my career to suck it up and say I’ll miss the rest of the year and get the surgery done so I could come back 100-percent healthy,” (Kyle Cicerella)
But with mobility returning to his wrist, an integral body part when you’re a playmaking centre who uses reach and stick handling to gain an advantage, Colborne has taken off. In the past 37 games (since January 2nd), he has 12 goals and 20 assists (0.86 points per game). It’s evident how much of a difference the recovery made. His mental and positional game are similar, but simply put, his passes and shots are harder and more accurate, and his stickhandling is more fluid. It’s like he’s re-added a layer of talent.
Combining his 2010/11 stint, his October 2011, and 2013 to date stats, you have a 0.96 point per game player over 66 games, compared to the 0.41 between November 2011 and December 2012. If it was as simple as injury recovery, Colborne could very well be back to being a top prospect in the Leafs organization.
He’s Become Important
Most impressive in his run this calendar year is that he’s doing it in a way that has him effectively carrying the team on his back offensively.
In those 37 games, he has points in 21, showing that they’re coming consistently rather than in bursts (14 single, 3 double, 4 triple point efforts). While his points in losses have only gone up slightly compared to the start of the year (0.5PPG vs. 0.42 in the first 28), his points per game in wins has jumped from 0.31 to 1.21, almost a full point per game.
What this shows is that he’s both been given the opportunity to succeed, and that he’s been grasping it. With Keith Aucoin in Long Island, and Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri finding permanent spots on the Leafs, Colborne is arguably Toronto’s most important offensive forward post-lockout, with Ryan Hamilton being the only other comparable.
Another stat to show his effect is percentage of team points. At his low point, games 11 to 20 in the Marlies Schedule, Colborne was chipping in a point on just 6.3% of Marlies goals, well below the average player. There have been 575 Marlies points on 216 goals, meaning an average of 2.66 points have been awarded per goal. Your average of 18 skaters on the ice should theoretically get a point on 14.7%.
Over those first 28 games, he was in on just 11.1%. However, he’s stepped it up since. In 2013, Colborne has been in on 29.1% of goals, including 42.9% in his first 9 games of healthy play.
Needless to say, on a team that’s scoring less than the start of the year, Colborne bringing his points per game by 239% and his point involvement up by 262% is huge.
This Could Throw Him Off
Now, as much as I’d love to keep gushing about his recent play on the Marlies, the topic at hand is his call up to the Leafs. From a pure development standpoint, I’m not so sure if it’s the best of ideas.
While he’s been producing very well, what’s the point of breaking that play up? It’s been a great half season, but it’s been a great half season after a full season of disappearance. Not to mention, where exactly do they expect to slot him? Nazem Kadri leads the team in points, is near the top of the NHL, and can’t get himself sizable minutes. With Bozak, Kadri, Grabovski, and McClement all being down the middle, where do you even play Colborne?
This Could Be A Test
That said, the call up could be a bit of a test to see what he’s capable of for next season. While surviving the deadline obviously increases the odds of Tyler Bozak still being in a Leafs uniform next year, he and the organization are still a ways apart in contract negotiations. If Bozak were to leave, Colborne is the likely option in the role that Bozak should probably be playing once the Leafs are competitive – a skilled third liner who can bounce up into a top six role.
Otherwise, maybe the Leafs are looking at shopping Mikhail Grabovski at the end of the season instead, and want to see if Colborne’s two way game has improved to make him an option there. A few games up with the team while their playoff position seems somewhat safe to evaluate a player couldn’t hurt.
This Could Be Meaningless
Or maybe, just maybe, it could be one of those typical Toronto “thank you” reward call ups, where they expect Colborne to not play at all but take in NHL salary for a few days. I don’t see this as entirely likely, with the Marlies set to fly out to St. Johns today for games on Friday and Saturday, but with those being the only two they play until next weekend, you never know.
On a similar train of thought, they could possibly not play him, but get him in practices, as a hybrid of the meaningless point and the testing point. Maybe a game situation isn’t their way of seeing how he’s come along, but getting him to mess around with some NHL talent to get a vibe of where he’s at is entirely possible.
No matter what the case, one hopes that his strong play will continue, at either level he may play for the rest of the year. What we’re seeing in 2013 is the Joe Colborne that we all thought the team acquired to begin with. If he stays this way, he’ll be an important player on the Maple Leafs before we know it.
A cross-post from LeafsHQ