Friday, October 24, 2014

Rubbing Shoulders with the Greats: Passin' Joe Colborne off to a Terrific Start

Look up the NHL's scoring leaders, sort the list by assists and you find an interesting group of names at the top with eight each. Among them:
  • John Tavares
  • Ryan Getzlaf
  • Joe Colborne

Not bad company for the 24-year-old Calgary kid.

"It feels nice but I'm not going to fool myself and say I'm playing at that level," said Colborne on Thursday night, after assisting on Sean Monahan's first two goals of the year. "It's just a component of being given a chance by the coaches and playing with some good players."

During the pre-season and through the first eight games of the regular season, Colborne had mainly played centre. But looking to kick-start his offence and in particular -- his forward group, coach Bob Hartley moved Colborne to the wing for Thursday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes and reunited him with Monahan and Jiri Hudler.

It worked. The Flames routed the visitors 5-0, Monahan broke out of his season-long slump and Hudler, with two assists, snapped a four-game pointless streak.

"I'm trying to create chemistry," Hartley said. "Huds, Mony and Colby. That's the line that I saw last year. That's the kind of performance that they were giving us and certainly, that's the kind of performance that we need from them."

Drafted Out of the AJHL

Colborne was drafted from the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Camrose Kodiaks by the Boston Bruins in 2008. He was chosen 16th overall. In a draft that was famous for the number of great defencemen selected (including TJ Brodie in round four), Colborne was the ninth forward taken.

After two years of playing NCAA at the University of Denver, Colborne signed with the Bruins and turned pro. He was in his first year with Boston's American Hockey League affiliate in Providence when he was acquired in February 2011 by Brian Burke, who at the time was the Maple Leafs general manager. Colborne and a second round draft pick went to Toronto in exchange for veteran defenceman Tomas Kaberle

With the exception of a handful of brief call-ups totaling 16 NHL appearances, Colborne spent the rest of that first year and then two more seasons with the AHL's Toronto Marlies before being acquired by Burke once again last September. Although technically it was then Flames general manager Jay Feaster, who consummated the trade in exchange for a fourth round draft pick, you just know Burke, Calgary's President of Hockey Operations, wielded some influence.

"When we picked him up last year at the end of training camp, reports were that he'd have a hard time playing in the NHL," recalls Hartley. "Today, he's on the power play, he's on the penalty kill, he's on a (regular) line. He's happy. We're certainly proud of his game and from our side, we're very happy to have him in our organization."

Continues to Get Better and Better

In 80 games with the Flames last year, Colborne finished with 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points. This season, he's got eight points already in just nine games.

"I'm seeing such progress from Colby," said Hartley. "An unbelievable young man. Wants to learn, prides himself. He has a great hockey sense, he's using his reach to his advantage, he's trusting his size and he's a great skater.

"He's really growing in our organization and that's a good sign. He's a local young man and that's always fun. That was a great trade for us and we're going to keep making sure that he's growing the right way."

Monahan was complimentary of his linemate, who you can bet he'll line up beside once again on Saturday night when the Washington Capitals visit the Saddledome.

"Me and Colbs are pretty good buddies," Monahan said. "Playing with each other, we still have some chemistry. We play a similar game. We both want the puck and we want to make plays and that's a big help for us."

While Monahan is a big guy himself at 6-foot-2 and north of 200 pounds, Colborne towers over him at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. 

"He's got a lot of confidence right now. A big guy with skill and confidence is hard to stop and right now, Joe's rolling and he's helping everybody else out too," Monahan said.

Caddying for Monahan

Colborne, a genuinely nice and personable guy off the ice, naturally deflected away any credit for helping Monahan bust out of his slump, saying the 20-year-old's return to the scoresheet was inevitable.

"That's the way it is with goal scorers. He's been getting chances. It's not like he's been going chanceless at all, and goalies are making saves. Sooner or later, a guy with that skill is going to break out. I was just happy I was able to be a part of it," Colborne said.

But he did say you could sense Monahan's relief and now that he's got his first couple goals, look out. 

"You could see it. Just the celebration in him with that first one. All the boys on the ice and on the bench were happy for him," said Colborne. "Right now, if I was a fantasy hockey player, I'd have him in the line-up for the next little while, he's going to get hot."

He says Monahan, who had 22 goals as a rookie, is an easy guy to play with.

"When you're playing with guys at that level like Mony, I don't know if it's just the fact that we're both centres, but he plays like he's a 30-year-old vet in this league. He's just in the right spot all the time and he makes it so easy."

Pass First, Shoot Second

Interestingly, Colborne doesn't have a goal yet. In fact, he's only had a total of six shots, one less than Brian McGrattan, who has sat out five of Calgary's nine games. But it's not personal success and gaudy statistics that's important to him, it's team success.

"If assists keep coming like this, I can go all year without scoring a goal. As long as the line is scoring," Colborne said. 

"It's confidence and playing with good players. The more you play with good players, the more they'll make you look good. The coach is giving me a lot of opportunities to get out there on the power play, get out there with some guys even strength and I'm just trying to take advantage of it."

The other thing that makes Colborne a very useful player for Hartley is his versatility. First line, fourth line, left or right wing, centre -- and sometimes all in the same night. It's something Colborne takes pride in.

Against Carolina, Hartley had Colborne fill in for Lance Bouma -- who is not a natural centre, a few times when the fourth line was on the ice for a key face-off in the defensize zone. In those situations, Colborne was perfect, finishing the night 5-0 at the dot.

"Any way they throw me on the ice, I'll take it. I'm loving the ice time and the opportunity I'm getting right now and it's something I want to just keep going," he said.

Willing to Play Wherever Necessary

If he was a baseball player, Colborne would be one of those National League utility guys that would have several different ball gloves in his locker and could play all over the field.

"It's something where if guys come back, we're healthy and another role needs to be created, it keeps me in the line-up when otherwise, it could be someone else being thrown in there," he said. "That's something I really tried to take advantage of last year when I was just trying to stay in the line-up and build that into my game. Now that I'm getting a larger role, I'm just trying to take advantage."

Does Colborne have a preference of position? If he does, he won't admit it. But he sure looked good back on the wing on Thursday.

"Less skating than as a centreman, that's for sure," Colborne admitted. "When you're playing with guys like Monahan and Huds and they're both feeling it like they were today, it makes it easy for me to make the switch."

The Flames have been pretty lucky with fourth round draft picks lately -- Brodie and Johnny Gaudreau have both turned out to be steals. Considering he was acquired in exchange for a fourth round draft pick, it looks like you can add Colborne to that theft list also.


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  1. You are really hitting them out of the Big O these days, not unlike Gurerro in 2000! Thanks a lot.

    Big Ell

  2. @depoisdacurva
    I think he is a good player. But I am not sure if his future is in Calgary.
    At least not in the center. Next year we will have Monahan, Backlund and Bennett. Soft Colby is not a 4th liner for sure.
    So, maybe he will find his spot in the wing.
    My only concern about his game is that mostly of the time he is soft. Sometimes it seems that he is afraid of get hurt. If he learns to use his big frame everything could change.

    1. Just because a player doesn't hit everything that moves doesn't make them "soft." He goes into the corners, and the way he battled for the puck behind the net on Monahan's second goal would indicate he is anything but soft.

    2. Just because he did that on that goal it doesn't mean that he goes a lot to the corners. Still think he is soft. But he is a good player.
      We need to agree to disagree in this one. Go flames go!