Despite being 6-foot-5, Joe Colborne of the Camrose Kodiaks may have the softest hands in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The Boston Bruins hope to reap the benefits.
Colborne, selected No. 16 by the Bruins in the 2008 Entry Draft, has tremendous stickhandling skills that allowed him to lead the AJHL with 57 assists and finish second with 90 points in just 55 games.
Most players drafted into the NHL come out of one of the three leagues in the Canadian Hockey League -- the Western Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League. But there are those who play at a lower level who blossom into terrific players. The AJHL has produced NHL players Brent Sutter, Mark Messier, Dany Heatley and Mike Comrie, so Bruins fans should not fear their top pick went to waste.
2007-08 SEASON STATS
(8th east/15th NHL)
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(9th east/21st NHL)
(2nd east/5th NHL)
Colborne doesn’t regret not playing in the WHL and relishes his time in Camrose.
"I've done a lot of growing physically and emotionally in the last couple of years, and I don't think I would have been given such an opportunity in the WHL," Colborne told the Calgary Herald. "Seeing how I grew as a player and person in Camrose, I can't say I have had any regrets."
Colborne's game reached new heights in Camrose, where he gave opposing defensemen fits.
"I like to control the puck," Colborne said. "I like to be making plays and either setting up my teammates or finishing plays myself. Obviously some of my strengths are stickhandling, puck control, vision and scoring."
It's not common for such a big man to have such soft hands, but Colborne fits that bill. He wasn't always so big and he recalls a time when he didn't tower over most of his opponents.
"Actually I was a pretty small player for most of my career until a few years ago and I started to grow, so I think that helped," Colborne said. "But right from when I was little, I worked pretty hard at developing my puck skills. I've had a lot of help along the way with a lot of great coaches. My dad's had a lot of influence on me, too. It's just the hours of practice that I've put in that have helped me keep it as I go along."
Bruins fans likely will have to wait at least one season to see those puck skills, as Colborne plans to play next season at the University of Denver.
"Hopefully sooner than later," Colborne said when asked when he would reach the NHL. "You never know. Hopefully in a year or two I'll feel ready and an NHL team will feel that way, too. But the positive thing about going to Denver is the fact that I will be able to, if for some reason things don't work out or I was to get injured, I'll be able to have a degree and a good career afterwards, anyway."
While Colborne matures in Denver, the Bruins will do the same. Boston made the Playoffs last season for the first time since 2004, and took the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens to a seventh game in the opening round. They did it without Patrice Bergeron, who missed all but 10 games due to a concussion, and defenseman Andrew Alberts, who missed 47 games.
Bergeron, Marco Sturm, Chuck Kobasew, Zdeno Chara and free-agent acquisition Michael Ryder all are signed through the 2010-11 season, which means Colborne should find himself in a Bruins lineup that will feature a good mix of veterans and younger players.
Colborne is an intelligent player as well as an intelligent person, and his education is important to him.
"Since I was little, I took school pretty seriously," he said. "It's always been a pretty high priority for my family. (I) just kind of took it from there and tried to maintain it despite hockey kind of getting in the way sometimes."
When Colborne gets to Boston, the Bruins hope to benefit from his smarts and skills.