It was Colbie and Colbie, if I keep him at centre, he might end up with five, six, seven minutes some games. If I put him on the wing, I can jack up his minutes and fast forward his progression. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- Joe Colborne is used to being the centre of attention.
But lately, the Calgary Flames forward has been wingin’ it.
With a logjam down the middle with the recent performances of Matt Stajan, Mikael Backlund and 19-year-old rookie Sean Monahan, Flames coach Bob Hartley has opted to try Colborne on the wing instead of burying him down the depth chart.
“Obviously he’s on a trial basis,” Hartley said. “You look at centre, we have three young centremen with Backlund, Monahan and Colbie and we have Staj. I want to fast-forward all of those guys progression so the best way is to try to give them maximum ice time.
“Backs is more established at centre. Right now, Backs is playing very well on both sides of the puck. I give him lots of missions playing against top lines with Staj, so they share the load.
“Monny is a 19-year-old kid. I want to make sure I teach him the centre position as good as he can learn at the fastest pace possible.
“It was Colbie and Colbie, if I keep him at centre, he might end up with five, six, seven minutes some games. If I put him on the wing, I can jack up his minutes and fast-forward his progression.”
In an effort to not shortchange Colborne of any ice by placing him in a fourth line role, Hartley specifically plucked the Calgary, AB product from the pivot position and placed him on the wing. Since making the switch, Colborne’s ice time has managed to creep up playing primarily on a line with Monahan in the middle and TJ Galiardi on left.
And while it’s taken time to adjust, Hartley feels Colborne, who has four goals and 12 points in 49 games this season, is a natural fit and will be a better player for the experience should he return to the middle.
“I feel that because of Colbie with his size, he can work the boards,” he said. “Right now he’s learning a new position. I think that whether we put him back at centre or keep him on the wing, it’s going to make him a better player. He’s going to understand what’s going on on the wings.
The 6-foot-5, 213-pound forward is already starting to see the early returns on that front.
It hasn’t taken Colborne long to start to understand the relationship between centre and winger from a little different perspective.
“You can’t overstate how important a good centreman is positionally,” he said. “If he’s coming under you, you can hack and whack away at a puck for a good 10 seconds and if he’s still in position, he’ll still be there and it makes you look pretty good.
“I think centremen don’t get enough credit when they’re good at it. You can make a good winger look bad and a bad winger look good depending on what the centreman does.”
But Hartley admitted the experiment, still in its infancy, hasn’t been without its challenges.
He initially tried the 23-year-old on the left side, something Colborne didn’t initially take to.
A switch to his off-wing, though, has shown promising returns in recent outings.
“I’ve been more of a distributor for my whole life so that’s not really going to change too much on the wing and that’s one of the reasons I like being on the right side,” said Colborne, a left-hand shot. “It kind of lets me attack the middle a little bit more. I think the right side kind of helps me maintain that type of play.”
It also helps Colborne keep an eye on other things as he adjusts to life outside the faceoff circle.
“You have to be careful you don’t get laid out a few times from a d-man coming across,” he said. “As long as you’re heads up, you’re okay.”