Since making the NHL with his hometown Calgary Flames, Joe Colborne has been bounced all throughout the lineup. Initially billed as a centre, he ended up shifting over to the right wing when that position got too full (remember when the Flames had no centres? Incredible). Even while on the wing, he couldn't seem to stick: top six? Bottom six? ... Middle six?
Let's go with middle six. Colborne probably isn't quite what the Flames were hoping he'd be - he's tall, but not necessarily physical; he has hands and skills, but doesn't really score. At 25 years old, he isn't exactly showing any improvement, but he does look like someone who belongs in the NHL. It's just... middle six is such a weird area.
Colborne is handled the way you'd want any kid finding his place in the league to be. He's given multiple chances and a lengthy leash, and occasionally, he comes through for his team. And just like any kid, there are times he doesn't.
This past season, Colborne was probably most famous for scoring a lot on Edmonton, and for a couple of poorly thought out penalties against the Anaheim Ducks that helped end the Flames' season. (Also, that one really awesome shorty.)
There's a lot more to take into account, though, and so, here are our grades.
Joe Colborne has some strengths. He’s starting to learn how to use his size, for one thing. He also has some pretty nice hands, as we’ve seen on his shootout tries, which he’s not half bad at (not to mention that breakaway shorty in the playoffs against the Ducks - a perfect culmination of both his strengths).
That’s about it, though. Colborne isn’t particularly great. He’s 25, and has just played his second NHL season. Maybe he’s a late bloomer, but there probably isn’t a lot of improvement to be had. Colborne’s decision making is questionable, his penchant for brainless penalties is unfortunate, and he’s received far more chances than he probably has had any right to, likely because of how gosh darn big he is. Colborne isn’t a top six player though, and there are more effective bottom sixers out there, which puts him and his usage in a tough position in regards to the team. It’s tough to see where he fits in down the line.
Mike FAIL (D):
Sometimes I call him Colbort. He isn’t the same player he was projected to be and previous injuries have derailed him further. He often receives praise for his ability to protect the puck (which is just him being large and in the way because he is Joe Colborne). Maybe if he used his size more frequently for the better of the situation we could see better results.
His biggest flaws tend to revolve around decision making and it usually forces a teammate to go assist him. Colborne’s future is legitimately in jeopardy with other strong forward options in the bottom six. He has been given top six treatment, top quality in linemates, and still failed to produce. Maybe it’s high time we move on from the Colborne experiment for good.
Colborne gets a lot of (deserved) flack for being a bad possession player, but he did enough in spite of the possession numbers to show some worth. He managed to produce enough to offset the terrible possession numbers which he had. He also was a surprisingly decent penalty killer and produced a bit on the power play. Unlike defenseman where all players need to be decent at even strength, there might be a modicum of value in stacking a player like Colborne on the fourth line and using him on the special teams.
He’s still massively overpaid and nobody should have any faith in the team using him like that though.
Apparently I’ve been generous with my score for Joe Colborne, but the truth is, I don’t dislike him as much as some. Yes, he messes up sometimes. Yes, he messed up in the playoffs with that ‘high-sticking’ penalty, but Backlund did the same thing the game after, and I didn’t see him taking any flak for it. He’s kind of become an easy scapegoat due to his performance in the playoffs. His usage may be skewed because he’s a large body, and he’s a slow skater, but when he uses his size properly - battling along boards, hits, screening for goals - it can work. His other positive attribute is his shootout ability. If he can get a clean breakaway (not one where he has to chase to beat the other team - see: slow skater), I have faith that he can bury it - remember Game 3 against Anaheim, and that was shorthanded. One last point: he’s improved his game since his first season in Calgary. In 16 fewer games, he recorded the same number of points. Growth is never a bad thing with such a young team.
His playoff performances were probably somewhere around the D- area, but his regular season wasn’t too bad. He did make leaps and bounds from his rookie season in points production, but a lot of the issues that plagued him in 2013-14 still hindered him in 2014-15. He’s still slow and clumsy; not good for a team that is (slowly) developing a reputation around speed and skill. If there’s one positive attribute to him, it’s his size. His frame allows him to battle in the corners and win his fair share of puck battles. He just needs to fix his glaring issues, and he can be a better player next season.
You could argue that another thing hampering him is the fact that he doesn’t really fit anywhere on the roster. He was initially slotted with Gaudreau and Byron (the two Timbits and a tower line), but then rotated around with guys like Jooris, Raymond, and Backlund. He was a disaster with all three. Maybe the fault doesn’t lie with the roster, but with the player. If he wants to be on the Flames after this season, the onus is on him to get better.
Somewhere, in the deepest darkest reaches of his body, is a great hockey player, dying to get out. Unfortunately, nobody has told him. You can’t fault his effort, and he is trying his best, it’s just that his best isn’t really good enough. It’s a shame, as he seems very likeable, but being nice doesn’t win cups.
Joe Colborne showed us flashes of brilliance between periods of stagnation. Every now and again he was everywhere on the ice, creating shots and scoring chances, then for a handful of games he’d vanish. I hope for his own sake that Colborne makes good on his potential to become an effective power forward in the NHL, but we have yet to see it. At 25, it’s crunch time in the young man’s career.
While our grades are pretty across the board (and shoutout to saltysyd, our very own Paula Abdul!), our sentiments remain the same: Colborne is a player with potential that, for whatever reason, hasn't figured it out yet. Normally, that's not a problem, but the clock is starting to tick. Before it strikes midnight, though, we've given him a C- average, which essentially translates to "room for improvement".
Colborne's offence improved over this past season, but not much else. As forward prospects start to come out of the woodwork and prove not only their worth but also where they slot in, it's up to Colborne to take the next step. If he does, the Flames will have an extremely versatile player on their hands who can be relied on in special teams, shootouts, and injury replacements up and down the lineup. If he doesn't, then he'll get left behind. It's that simple, and it's up to him.