It’s Time To Become Familiar With Joe Colborne

With no NHL hockey being played, Canucks fans haven’t been left with too many alternatives to consume their time as these dreary Fall days drag on. Sure, there are some big names playing in the KHL – and its legitimacy is being supplemented by the wonderful highlight packages Steve Dangle and Andrey Osadchenko have been doing – but it’s just not the same. 

I’m sure you’d prefer to be spending your time looking for suitable trade partners for Keith Ballard on Cap Geek as he’s glued to the bench, or making fun of Mason Raymond for displaying the on-ice stability of an intoxicated 16-year old girl. But both of those will have to be put on hold for the time being.

For now, fans of the team will have to settle for two particular forms of entertainment to get by: following the Chicago Wolves as the team’s top prospects continue to develop, and playing armchair GM in the anticipation of the inevitable Roberto Luongo deal. We have been covering the Wolves on a regular basis thus far, providing you with game recaps for every contest to-date.

But let’s focus on the other topic, which Thomas Drance has wittily coined "Strombabble". In the months since the Canucks bowed out of the playoffs, there has been no shortage of rumours floated around. Unfortunately, there has been nothing definitive and thus, there’s still plenty of uncertainty. What we can agree on is that three suitors have separated themselves from the pack – the Leafs, Oilers, and Panthers.

We all know about the big names from each of those teams that we’d like to see in a Canucks uniform, but chances are that Gillis won’t be able to pry any of them loose. Instead, we’ll spend the next few weeks taking a look at some of the more intriguing players that may actually be available. The name Joe Colborne has popped up in recent weeks, as a potential return for Luongo. But who exactly is Joe Colborne? And should Canucks fans care?

Read Past the Jump for More.

His case is an interesting one, that has far more to it than initially meets the eye. Its complexity makes it unfair to judge him based on what he has managed to accomplish thus far in the AHL. Back in June, Cam ‘Cammy Cam Juice‘ Charron took a look at Colborne’s 2011-12 season for the Toronto Marlies.

The type of mid-season regression he went through last year resembled that of the Minnesota Wild, not a much-heralded prospect who had seemed to have finally put it all together for a breakout campaign. After being fairly unimpressive in Providence, he came out to begin his career in Toronto’s organization like gangbusters, notching 49 points in his first 60 games as a Marlie (encompassing the end of ’10-’11 and beginning of ’11-’12). So naturally, the fact that he had just 14 points in the final 40 games of last season raised some eyebrows in the hockey community.

But everything made a little more sense once Colborne had wrist surgery after the Marlies were bounced from the playoffs. He claimed to have been playing with it for a while, and the data supports it; his shots on goal per game fell off the map, likely as a result of playing a more perimeter-based game. He was a wounded player, and didn’t do a great job of hiding it.

What’s unclear is why exactly a young player such as himself was playing through as serious an injury as he was. What we do know, though, is that fans of the Vancouver Canucks are accustomed with a player’s production declining as he guts through a wrist injury.

Let’s assume that Colborne is much closer to the player that he was prior to getting injured, as opposed to the one who slumped through the final 40. But where does that leave us? What does he bring to the table, and just how good does he project to be?

Joe Colborne is pretty good, despite the fact that his hair makes even Jeff Carter uneasy.

Height and weight listings for professional athletes are notoriously distorted, giving fans the allusion that the players are far more physically imposing than they actually are. But I had the luxury of seeing Colborne in person this past weekend as the Marlies visited Abbotsford to take on the Heat, and can vouch for the 6’5” he is listed at. He is a large individual. 

The following is the write-up on Colborne by Corey Pronman, who ranked him as the 2nd best prospect in the Maple Leafs system – who coincidentally came in at 15th on the organizational rankings – and the 56th best prospect in all of hockey:

The Good: Colborne has very desirable offensive tools for a big man. His speed is pro-average with slight improvement from the previous season in that area. He’s a creative player with solid puck skills. I don’t see him being a true plus dangler, but he’s pretty coordinated with the puck for his size. Colborne has very impressive vision; it’s easily above average and maybe even high-end and he can really threaten as a playmaker. He’s a pass-first player, but when he shoots, he has a plus shot that he can absolutely wire.

The Bad: 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. His strength level has gotten better but he could still improve on that area. Colborne needs better first-step quickness and could be somewhat better defensively as well.

I saw him live for the first time this weekend – and have only watched him on tape a handful of times – so I’ll admit that I haven’t seen nearly enough of Colborne to feel comfortable conjuring up an opinion as it relates to his abilities. But what I saw on Friday night fell right in line with Pronman’s assessment. It didn’t take long for him to showcase his offensive talents, as he set up a goal only a few minutes into the game. Just as he looked to be in a tough position behind the net, surrounded by defenders, he spotted a teammate in front and effortlessly flicked the puck over to him through the crowd, for an easy score.

As you read that, the visual that came up in your head should have been that of Joe Thornton doing Joe Thornton things. Obviously at this point Colborne can only dream of being anywhere near Joe Thornton’s level. And I don’t mean to paint the kid into a box by placing an unfair comparison on him, but a play like that is what Jumbo Joe has made a career of.

Using his size to protect the puck, until he’s in a position to use his tremendous hands and vision to spot and hit a teammate in a scoring position. A guy that large shouldn’t be that smooth, and Colborne certainly is. After watching him play, it’s very obvious why he was drafted as a first rounder. That particular skillset can only be described as tantalizing.

My biggest concern regarding him came when I saw him get rubbed off of the puck along the boards on occasion. Given how physically imposing he appears to be, that shouldn’t happen. As a Canucks fan, I have come to be weary of big, skilled forwards who aren’t willing to play with the type of "edge" that you’d hope for. I reached out to Pronman, in an attempt to hopefully paint a clearer picture of what Colborne is capable of.

DF: You’re on the record as saying that Colborne is one of the more difficult prospects to get a read on. Why is that?

CP: His consistency/physical play has been inconsistent, but he has top line caliber tools between his size and offensive abilities. In his 2nd pro year he was flat out dominant in the early goings from a scouting and statistical level. He started to tail off somewhat before the injury, and then fell off a cliff afterwards. There’s a lot of uncertainty and question marks as to how valuable Colborne really is.

DF: What stuck out to me as I watched him was the fact that he doesn’t really use that size, at all. He got bullied off the puck on a few occasions. Do you think that’s just a case of a young kid who doesn’t know how to use his size/hasn’t reached the necessary physical maturity, or is there more to it? Obviously this particular dilemma is extra prevalent for Canucks fans, as we’ve had guys like Taylor Pyatt and Steve Bernier come through town. Do you ever see Colborne becoming physical enough to take that next step?

CP: He’s not "mean", but he can win puck battles in close quarters, and box out using his frame so I don’t see it as this big, red glaring alarm type of issue.

DF: From your write-up this summer, it sounded like you weren’t all that sold on his defensive game. Does he have a legit shot to be a two-way guy, or is he going to need to be sheltered? And does he stay at centre long-term?

CP: He’ll be fine in that area. Not good enough to be a penalty killer, but not bad enough that he needs to be a 55%+ Offensive zone starts player. He’ll definitely remain a centre.

The thing that fascinates me the most about someone like Joe Colborne is the role that he would potentially fill for the Canucks. For a while now, I’ve wondered out loud what the effects of putting a dangerous centre next to Ryan Kesler – someone who the opposing team would have to respect, and someone who had the playmaking ability to get Kesler the puck – would be? Obviously much of Kesler’s value comes from his two-way abilities down the middle, as he drives play for the team while going up against stiff competition. But still, it’s hard not to wonder what would happen if Kesler was alleviated of some of his defensive responsibilities, and was fully unleashed on the right wing. I may go more in-depth on this in the coming weeks.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that the Canucks will not be getting fair value in a trade involving Roberto Luongo. Whatever happens, they’ll be giving up the best player in the trade. Unless a General Manager loses his mind, and feels the need to pull off a panic trade – we’ve seen it happen before, so it’s possible – the Canucks will not be getting their hands on a Jake Gardiner, Nick Bjugstad, or Jordan Eberle.

But that doesn’t mean that they need to settle for someone like Tyler Bozak, either. I have already shot that down as a viable return. If a top prospect can’t be had, I’d at least hope to receive someone who conceivably has the upside of being a valuable asset for the team in the years to come. And Joe Colborne seems to.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Great article.

    I’ve wondered about Colborne. I only watched him 6-10 times, but I haven’t been impressed. His skating looks below avg to me, and that’s my biggest concern for a 3rd yr AHLer. He looks like Gumbi. But the Canucks need a young cetnre in a Luongo trade, a big fat no thanks to Bozo (Bozak).

    I think a new CBA will bring more interest in Luongo. In fact, I’m certain of it. There is still the ‘mystery’ team nobody knows who they are. GM’s will have a bigger piece of the pie after a new CBA. I read a good article about the last lockout and how GM’s used that additional $$ to be competitive. They invested a lot of $$ in personale. There are many teams where Luongo would be an upgrade. A bonus factor is the possibility of an amnesty clause or being able to trade salary. Either option could allow Canucks to eat $$ without eating cap space.

    Unlike you, I think the Canucks will get a teams top prospect. Not #1, but #2-4 ranking. I just hope they use that to get a centre, and not a redundant lefty d-man.