That is not, I hasten to add, a universal view, but it feels like the prevailing one—at least here.
It feels clear (at least in my mind) that Nonis is far from finished filling in the canvas, which was not exactly blank to begin with. But the tweaking (in some cases much more than tweaking) continues, and if nothing else, he has shown that he is not afraid to make moves, and does not have a sentimental attachment to many (if any) players here. (We can argue, however, about exactly how the GM sees Bozak and whether the organization's desire to retain Kessel is, in part, behind the decision to re-sign the young center, but that can be a discussion for another day…)
What I am now trying to figure out is if we are good enough at the center ice position. Yes, we are a bit different, with Grabovski out and Bolland now in the picture, but we will go to battle next season with three other centers that we had a year ago (Kadri, Bozak and McClement). With that lineup in the middle, Leaf fandom complained quite regularly that we lacked a true number-one center. (For the life of me, I still don’t see one on the roster, but as some have argued here, is it possible that we don’t “need” one, given the all-around skill set of the other pivots?)
I’ll even set that notion aside for today, though my next question does kind of tie in, and it is this: what do we do now with the much-heralded Joe Colborne?
Colborne arrived as one of the great young hopes of the Burke era, acquired as a former high pick of the Bruins who was a little further along the development curve than if we had simply acquired a future draft pick. To a certain extent, we knew what we were getting.
He was/is a young player with size, though not a physically imposing center ice man. Serious injuries seemed to neutralize his progress, but when healthy (particularly in the latter stages of this past season), he showed he had something. I won’t pretend that I have seen him play so often that I can provide a detailed analysis of all that he brings (or doesn’t), but I saw a player with some jump (at times) and who sees the ice well and can make plays. A great skater? Not so much, but fine. I’m not sure how much of a finisher he is, or if he will be a physical forward enough of the time, but again, he has something that sometimes catches your eye.
He was good enough for Carlyle to utilize at key moments in the playoffs against Boston, so the coach saw something in Colborne after injuries created an opening.
Now, I’ve often said here the hockey world is full of guys with potential, or who are really good minor-league players and show well for a brief period of time at the big-league level, but not enough to sustain a career. I don’t know where Colborne fits. Is he a guy who has shown more than just “potential”?
So I guess my real question is: if you are among those who see Colborne as an important part of the Leaf future, where does he fit with Bozak, Bolland, Kadri (we can safely assume he will re-sign before long) and McClement already established? Does he become a winger until a spot opens up? Or is he trade bait?
When I’ve watched Colborne over his time in Toronto (with the Marlies primarily) I could not shake the Dustin Penner comparison. Penner is a guy who has been on two Stanley Cup winners, and he was not an insubstantial part of the success of those teams. But a lot of his career has been marred by the ‘skating in circles’ syndrome. That is, he can be a player who always leaves you wanting more, who looks less than determined much of the time.
That said, he is a big, talented guy who has been marvelous at times in the playoffs.
I recognize that comparisons are usually empty and futile (and rarely even remotely close to being accurate), but I’m just acknowledging one that pops to mind when I think of the young Leaf and his future. I have no idea if Colborne has anywhere near the ceiling that Penner has demonstrated at his best, nor, given his having to play through injuries, can I fairly suggest he is in fact a lazy player, as Penner has often been described.
My biggest question about him now is, what is his future with the blue and white?
If you have a guess, let me know….