Monday, August 13, 2012

One To Watch: Toronto Maple Leafs

Once upon a time, I hated the Leafs. Back before my media days when I saw hockey solely through the eyes of a fan, my dislike of the team from Toronto was unrivaled. 

But that was a long time ago. Now there really aren't teams that I like or dislike, it's the people who play or work for them that are the deciding factors for me. As a media guy covering junior and college hockey, there are quite a few players within the organization that I knew and liked before they became property of the Leafs and it didn't change when that happened. 

Then there is Brian Burke who is a polarizing figure to be sure. Personally, as a media guy, I could listen to him all day long. He's been on TPS and a planned 10-minute interview turned into 16 minutes simply because we couldn't stop - it was pure audio gold. 

So no, I no longer hate the Leafs.  In fact, I actually would love to see them back in the playoffs (gasp!).

As for the prospects Toronto has coming up, there are quite a few I like. Edmontonians Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens are two of them. The ups and downs of Frattin's college career are well documented but how can you not pull for a guy in his shoes? Scrivens was always of interest me as he compiled stellar numbers year after year at Cornell. Then he joined us in studio for an hour last summer and blew me away. 

Brad Ross is the perfect prospect for the Leafs; he'll be loved by Bud fans and hated by everyone else in the league just like the organization itself. 

The hype machine is already in full gear for Morgan Rielly, a player I really like myself, and now the question is whether he gets a look at the NHL level this year or not. If he eventually lands back in the WHL with Moose Jaw, he instantly becomes a huge trading chip for the Warriors not unlike Brayden Schenn a couple of years ago. 

So who did I settle on? It's not really a surprise to anyone who has read this blog over the last number of years. Every year we ask a handful of draft eligible players to blog with us and the first player who stepped up is the guy I'm going with.   

Photo: Toronto Marlies

Joe Colborne (C)

Toronto Marlies
6'5, 215 lbs
Acquired via trade with Boston

It's tough to know how close Colborne really was to sticking in the NHL last year but he looked great early on. The native Albertan had piled up 19 points in 11 AHL games before the Leafs looked his way. He was called up in mid-November and scored 4 points in his first 5 games. 

He played four more games then was returned to the farm and from then on, something was clearly wrong. Just 4 points in 9 December games for Colborne and he only managed to score 6 goals for the rest of the year after being reassigned. This after he'd scored 10 goals in 11 games to start the year? Something wasn't right.

After the season, which included a trip all the way to the Calder Cup Finals, it was revealed that Colborne had been battling injury for most of the season. For some reason he played for six and a half months with a wrist injury which was serious enough to require surgery this past June. 
"It's hard to play through that," said Dallas Eakins, the Marlies head coach. "Most players would have shut it down but he was more than willing to battle through it."
But why? I'm not a doctor and I don't work for the team but you have to the decision to play injured for that long when he was clearly ineffective on the ice because of it. At some point, don't you take that choice away from the player because it's best for his long term career?

Assuming there is a Leafs camp in September, will Colborne be 100% in his recovery from surgery? It's expected he will be but that's one of the reasons he's my pick for this series - it bodes watching for. 

If all is well for Colborne by the time hockey is back, where does he play? 

The Leafs were small last year but they have partially addressed that by acquiring forward James vanRiemsdyk from Philly. Does that move hurt Colborne's chances of making the team or is the need for size still significant enough to give the 6'5 pivot extra time?

Photo: AJHL
The knock on Colborne during his AJHL days in Camrose and to some extend at Denver, was that he was somewhat of a gentle giant. Has he added more of a physical edge to his game that you would expect from a forward his size?

If he doesn't stick with the Leafs, who does he respond to more time on the farm? This will be his third professional campaign and most 1st round picks are in the NHL by this point. 

There are a lot of questions around Joe Colborne right now and that means a lot of reasons for me to select him as Toronto's "One to Watch" in 2012-13. 

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