TORONTO - If the current edition of the Maple Leafs ever becomes a serious playoff contender, the 2008 entry draft just might be looked upon as the place where it all began.
In acquiring big centre Joe Colborne Friday from the Boston Bruins, the Leafs now have three prospects from the first-round that year as potential keys to their future.
Joining their own pick, Luke Schenn and the recently acquired Jake Gardiner, who general manager Brian Burke drafted while in Anaheim, the Leafs hope they have a big-bodied centre for the future.
“He’s a big guy, not unduly physical, but we’re not getting him for that,” Burke said of Colborne. “We’re getting him for his skill. He’s a good kid who works hard.”
Selected 16th overall (one pick ahead of Gardiner) by the Bruins, Colborne was seen as a long-term project at the time given he was a raw specimen just coming out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
After spending almost two seasons at the University of Denver, the 6-foot-5, 213-pound Calgary native has 12 goals and 14 assists in 55 games with the Bruins AHL affiliate in Providence.
Colborne will report to the Marlies, where he is expected to remain for the rest of the season.
“(Leafs pro scout) Steve Kasper’s view is that he’s not there yet, but he’s close and should play in the top six,” Burke said.
“He meets our criteria of assets that are close, not guys who we are waiting three years to get here.”
One Western Conference NHL scout who has watched Colborne this season, described him as a strong skater and a stick handler but “for a big guy, he has a tendency to be soft at times.”
That said, Colborne has reportedly added 30 pounds since being drafted. His acquisition adds depth at centre and puts some more heat on the Leafs’ 2009 first-rounder, Nazem Kadri.
“(Kadri’s) in a battle just like he was before this trade,” Burke said. “We want everyone to be in a battle and now he’s in an even tougher battle.”
As for getting Colborne some time with the Leafs this season, Burke is incensed with the league’s recall rule, which allows for only four callups from the Marlies after the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
With goalie James Reimer and Keith Aulie eligible to play in the AHL playoffs, Burke will use two of those recalls by briefly sending them down to keep them eligible for the Marlies run, should it materialize.
“We’re hamstrung by the ridiculous four recall rule,” Burke said. “It’s an archaic, antiquated rule ... and it’s going to handcuff us. Through no fault of his own, (Colborne) could play great and not go up.”
— Rob Longley