Scene from 8 1/2
"All the confusion of my life... it has been a reflection of myself. Myself as I am, not as I'd like to be." -Marcello Mastroianni, "8 1/2"
"8 1/2" is a semi-autobiographical film by director Federico Fellini where Mastroianni plays the role of Guido, a director with writer's block who, as a result of external pressures from studios, producers, and the media, has constructed a monstrosity of a movie set for a film that has yet to fully take shape in his mind. The set itself comes to represent the oppressive pressure Guido feels to live up to his past successes and these pressures only further exacerbate his intellectual and artistic impotence.
In Joe Colborne, I see a lot of Fellini's Guido.
Colborne was drafted 16th overall in the 2008 Entry Draft and was always viewed as a project. While his size and skating made him worthy of a first round selection, The Hockey News described his play as "indifferent" and his skills as "undeniable".
After two solid seasons at the University of Denver, in 2010-11, Colborne made the full-time transition to the AHL's Providence Bruins where he posted a fairly lacklustre 26 points in 55 games and was subsequently traded to the Maple Leafs. Colborne had more success with the Marlies to close out the 2010-11 season (16 points in 20 games) and spent the first couple months of the 2011-12 season among the AHL leaders in points, earning an invitation to the AHL All-Star Game. Colborne's point pace slowed to a crawl to close out the season as injuries (he was forced to skip the All-Star Game) and the loss of linemate Joey Crabb seemed to seriously affect his game.
All of this looks like a fairly standard progression for a prospect taken in the middle of the first round and yet, at 22 years old, Colborne is no spring chicken. Even before he was drafted, his production never seemed to match what many saw as his underlying talent. First, it was explained away by his family's affluence; he didn't, some claimed, have the same pressures to succeed as most of his peers. Last season, the blame lay with injuries and a late growth spurt that has kept his metabolism high and prevented him from adding weight to his lanky frame. At some point though, you need to deliver on your promise.
Over the last 10 years, there haven't been many impact forwards who have played their rookie seasons at 22 or 23 (Colborne will turn 23 in January).
Notable 22-year olds include:
The list of 23-year olds is considerably less impressive:
What it all boils down to for Colborne is that the time is now or likely never. There's no denying that his frame and skill set make him a high-ceiling prospect and the kind of big-bodied center that NHL teams lust after. Maybe now that he's finally stopped growing, he'll be able to play pain-free and add some bulk to his large frame. Maybe, by adding this size, he'll change his mindset to play a more assertive game in the offensive zone. Maybe spending some time with new skating coach Barb Underhill will improve his first couple of steps. Maybe he's the kind of player who would perform better the NHL-calibre linemates (like Crabb) rather than guys a step below like Greg Scott. All we can say with any certainty is that those are a lot of maybes.
For the record, Colborne is a guy I had my eye on long before the Leafs actually acquired him from the Bruins. At that time, I very much saw him as Getzlaf-lite -- a big, playmaking center who was a strong skater for his size and probably looked to pass more often than he should. The lack of linearity in his development make actual projections for Colborne all but impossible. At times he looks dominant and then, whether because of injuries, fatigue, or a lack of confidence, he seems to disappear for large stretches of games.
Like Guido, Colborne was leaned on rather heavily last season and has doubtlessly felt the pressure ever since being selected in the first round in 2008. Our expectation of hockey players is the same as a cinefile's expectation of a director: Development. It isn't enough to live on reputation or the successes of one's past -- we expect results. Guido realizes that the perception of himself that he's tried to cultivate deviates drastically from who he really is as a person. If Colborne doesn't take a dramatic step forward this season then we may need to start viewing him as he is, not as how we'd like him to be.