On one hand, it could be viewed as make-it-or-break-it time for Joe Colborne
The six-foot-five, 223-pound centre has been on the cusp of making it to the National Hockey League as a full-time player for the past three years and if the Toronto Maple Leafs
don't think he can do it this season, he must be put on waivers before being sent to the American Hockey League.
A first-round pick of the Boston Bruins (16th overall) in 2008 who was obtained by the Maple Leafs in a trade for defenceman Tomas Kaberle
, Colborne has played 16 NHL games over the past three seasons, scoring a goal and adding five assists.
The flip side of Colborne's situation is, if the Maple Leafs don't want him, surely one of the other 29 teams - Calgary and Florida immediately spring to mind - would.
As the Maple Leafs took to the ice for their second day of on-ice action Friday, Colborne stood out as one of the most improved players. Of course it is early, but the most noticeable difference is his vastly improved skating.
In a drill where two players were required to skate around cones in the circles at one end of the ice before racing for a puck at centre ice, Colborne won the drill all four times, including once against Jake Gardiner
, one of the fastest skaters on the team.
"I finally had a healthy summer and I could do all the things I wanted to do," Colborne said. I did a lot of stairs this summer and worked on lactic acid tolerance. For a big guy it is so huge on a long shift to be able to stay down in your crouch and stay powerful. I feel confident now. I'm heavier, but I have way stronger legs. I feel so much more solid on my skates."
Some players take longer than others to develop, but it looked a few years ago like Colborne might be ready to take the next step when he tore up the AHL scoring early in the season and was named player of the month for October. Since then, however, his play has been somewhat inconsistent.
He was second in scoring on the Marlies last season with 14 goals and 42 points in 65 games, but had long stretches of no productivity. In five games with the Maple Leafs he was held pointless.
Colborne feels ready to make the jump to the NHL.
"I'm excited," he said. "Yesterday was a feeling-out period and it was a little choppy, but today it felt more like real hockey and I was able to show what I could do. I'm having fun and it helps my confidence knowing I was here last year during the playoffs. To step in and contribute was huge for me and now I know that I can come and do that on an everyday basis.
"It's one thing to feel it and it's another to go out and show it. I realize that and there are a lot of guys here who have proven themselves already and have shown they are NHL players. I am happy to come out and prove to people that I am an NHL player."
Where exactly Colborne fits in remains to be seen. He is a natural centre, but the Maple Leafs already have Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, David Bolland and Jay McClement ahead of him on the depth chart
. It is unlikely he'll unseat any of them so he may be forced to play the wing. Regardless, Colborne said he'll do whatever it takes to stick with the team. To do that he knows he has to be noticed.
"That's part of it, but you also have to go out there and not have something significant happen against you," he said. "Depending on what role the coaches want me in that can be just as important as scoring every shift. To make this team you have to gain the trust of the coaches in the defensive zone and I realize that is a huge factor. It doesn't matter what you do in the offensive zone, if I am turning pucks over and getting beat defensively it won't matter."
GUNNARSSON KEEPS IT SIMPLE
You don't always notice him on the ice and that is a good thing.
Unlike his flashy defensive partner, Dion Phaneuf
, Swedish defenceman Carl Gunnarsson
likes to keep his game simple. You won't see him make the flashy end-to-end rush and seldom does he dish out the big centre ice hit. But for a guy who averages over 20 minutes a game, he rarely causes his coach to lose sleep because of foolish, miscalculated play.
"I don't set any goals in terms of goals, assists or points or plus-minus," Gunnarsson said. "That's just going out there and chasing it. I want to go into every game with the mindset that I am going to play better than I did in my last game. I try to improve every game and not worry about chasing goals.
"That takes the focus off the game; chasing goals ... chasing assists ... chasing hits. Just play your game, be confident, stick to the system and be a team player."
There have been times the past few seasons when, because of the consistency in his game, Gunnarsson has been Toronto's best, if not safest, defenceman. You would think at this stage of the game, things would be getting easier for him. He begs to differ.
"Easier? Not at all," Gunnarssson said. "At the same time you are getting older, too, and with more younger guys coming in they want to have a spot on the team and it's a battle. The competition on the blue-line is unbelievable now. You can't relax for a second."
NO KNOCKING DEVILS' WAY
For years David Clarkson
did things the New Jersey Devils way. Make that the Lou Lamoriello way.
Lamoriello, one of the most successful and most respected general managers in the NHL, is old school and has a very business-like way of operating his organization.
"I think anywhere you go people do things differently," said Clarkson, who signed with Toronto
as an unrestricted free agent this summer. "I didn't find anything Lou did to be that weird. All we were asked to do was cut our hair and shave. To me that's pretty simple. My parents raised me with rules and I think when your boss tells you to do something you do it.
"There's obviously differences here compared to how we did things in New Jersey, but at the end of the day nothing we did there bothered me. I have the utmost respect for him and for years anything he asked from me, whether it was cutting my hair or shaving, didn't bother me. If you didn't have your hair cut he'd let you know about it and you got it cut the next day."
Clarkson said he got the tap on the shoulder a few times from Lamoriello regarding the length of his hair and he responded right away to make the boss happy.
"I had the odd talk with Lou, but it was always something you tried to stay on top of out of respect for him," Clarkson said. "When I was in New York recently on the media tour I went to see him to say hello and I thought to myself, 'I should have cut my hair!' just because I was so used to the way he does things. It's a respect thing.
"He's a man who is very loyal and he was quite good to me from a young age. He's old school and he likes things to stay a certain way and he's been successful doing it. You can't knock things that are successful."
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