TORONTO — In order to take a step forward, Joe Colborne has to take a step back.
Not back to the minors, where the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect spent a majority of the last three seasons. But to the bottom of the team’s depth chart, where a first-round draft pick with top-line potential is now eyeing the fourth line as his ticket to the NHL.
It is part of the transformation that Colborne is trying to undertake in an attempt to make the Leafs’ roster out of training camp. The 23-year-old was a No. 1 centre in college and in the minors, where he was relied upon to score big goals and play big minutes. And while he is certain he can play that role in the NHL one day, he realizes that if he is going to earn a spot on head coach Randy Carlyle’s team it will be in a role where he is valued more for his size and defence than his goal-scoring ability.
“I mean, whatever the coaching staff wants me to do I’ll do,” Colborne said before Sunday’s pre-season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers in London, Ont. “Obviously, I have trust in my offensive ability and I know I can play a scoring role in this league. But if we already have a solid couple of lines there, then I’m more than happy to play the role they want me to do and get my foot in the door and continually build that trust with the coaching staff.”
This is the challenge of any young player who is trying to define his game at the next level. Colborne, who has the size and skill to be a top-six forward, might have scored in the past. But almost everyone in the NHL has scored in the past.
Colborne, who would have to clear waivers if he were sent down to the minors, should have the inside track to starting the season as the fourth-line centre. That might not be where he sees himself as a player but the coaching staff has made it clear that ice time has to be earned. If Colborne wants to end up with a corner office, he will have to get there by starting in the mailroom.
To that end, Colborne spent this summer training with power skating instructor Barb Underhill to become faster, and he shot hundreds of pucks at the old concrete shed at his parents’ place in Alberta to become more of a scoring threat. But unless he can show the ability to play a fourth-line energy role, he might not get a chance to show what else he can do [read entire article].