When giant Joe Colborne parked in his stall at the MasterCard Centre on Friday, the left side of the dressing room suddenly looked like Murderers’ Row.
The rookie, who makes his debut Saturday against the Canadiens, bookended a line of nine Maple Leaf skaters at six feet or better, stretching all the way down to Jay Rosehill.
Colborne, summoned from the Marlies when Tim Brent was hurt, will get first chance at what could be a coveted role next season, a centre for Phil Kessel. No one is saying Tyler Bozak has lost that job, but Kessel’s late-season chemistry with rugged Joffrey Lupul on the left side would only be enhanced if a big pivot were to prove himself. Colborne’s 15 points in 19 games on the farm made him an ideal choice as the last call-up of the year. Coach Ron Wilson might have to catch himself from using the ‘Jumbo Joe’ nickname that was Joe Thornton’s handle when both worked in San Jose.
“We’ve seen (Colborne) a number of times and now he gets to play in a game of some significance,” Wilson said.
“This will give us a bit of a way to evaluate him ... (to have an) idea of what to work on this summer. I want to put him in a position where he can succeed (with Lupul and Kessel). He could be a No. 1 centre some day. He has a lot to work on, but he’s a big body, he’s good on faceoffs and he can skate.”
This will be the first tangible return from the Tomas Kaberle trade, as Colborne was a first-round pick of the Bruins in 2008. He joked that his Leaf-loving, Sarnia-born dad would be ecstatic his NHL start will be in blue and white.
“He was on Cloud Nine when I got traded here and when I gave him the phone call (Thursday) he was vibrating,” said the Calgary-born Colborne. “It doesn’t get much better than Hockey Night In Canada. A lot of people will be watching on TV, my parents are coming and my sister is on her way back from Germany (where she plays basketball). She thought she was going to see me with the Marlies.
“I look forward to showing them what I can do, but one game won’t make or break my career.”
Colborne’s arrival adds more spice to Game 82 for the Leafs. While the game has little bearing on the standings, with the Leafs out and Montreal likely to face the Bruins in the first round, these meetings are rarely tame, on the ice or in the stands.
After a night off, Carey Price will be back in goal for the Canadiens, who are 0-2 at the ACC this year.
“Look how the Leafs have played,” coach Jacques Martin warned. “They made a strong push to get into the playoffs. We’ll have to bring our A game.”
James Reimer, meanwhile, says he wants to do well in net for fans who won’t get to see the Leafs in playoffs a sixth straight year.
“We’d like to be playing a more important game, but you want to leave a good taste for fans and management,” Reimer said. “It’s been surreal for me at times, but it has been enjoyable. Later this summer, I can sit down with my friends and my family (in rural Manitoba) and just reflect.”