Last year was a tale of two seasons for Leafs prospect Joe Colborne. At the beginning of the year, he was one of the best players in the entire AHL and even spent some time leading the league in points. Then he skipped the AHL All-Star Game and his performance went into free fall. By the end of the season, he wasn't in the top-100 point producers in the league despite the hot start. We wrote a little over a month ago that this was the season where either Colborne needed to live up to the hype surrounding him or people would need to start evaluating him on his output rather than his perceived potential.
Well, now we have a pretty good handle on why Colborne had such a precipitous drop in production. The team knew that he had a couple of torn ligaments in his wrist that were affecting rotation --and thus likely his puck handling and shooting-- but the surgery performed to repair this damage also revealed broken bone.
Apparently, it was Colborne's choice to play from January until June with the damage. While it isn't surprising that a young player with lots to prove in the midst of a breakout campaign would want to try to play through the pain, what's absolutely shocking to me is why management would let him.
While the team has been quick to point out that there was no risk of further injury, the question in my mind has more to do with poorly used development time.
If we're willing to grant that there was no chance of further injury, then it's a bit easier to weigh the pros and cons of his playing or undergoing surgery immediately. By continuing to play, Colborne was likely able to continue work on his positioning and defensive play which is something the team has sought to improve since acquiring him from the Boston Bruins. His skating (already a strength) could be fine tuned in game situations which would be difficult to replicate during the offseason.
What they lost, however, was six months of development on his offensive game. Shooting, puck handling, and even passing are all things that involve significant rotation of the wrist and were thus things that Colborne was likely unable to work on during that period.
Of equal concern is the likelihood of Colborne developing bad habits as a result of adjusting his play to the discomfort he was experiencing. Not only was he not improving in this regard, there's a very real chance that he was regressing.
For the time being, Colborne expects to be ready on time to start the AHL season with the Marlies but if he experiences any setbacks between now and then, we can add that cost to the ledger of what was a very bad developmental decision.