TORONTO - Just before the curtain closed on the Toronto Maple Leaf's season, fans were given an auspicious glimpse into the team's future.
Rookies Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin both made impressive debuts for the Maple Leafs on Saturday night in a 4-1 loss to the visiting Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre.
Colborne, who came to Toronto via Boston in the Tomas Kaberle trade in February, made a strong impression, showing his speed, size and passing ability as he centred the top line between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.
The six-foot-five centre from Calgary even got his first NHL point. He dished a long, high-risk pass to Kessel on the Maple Leaf's only goal of the game in the first period. Colborne received the lone assist on the play.
"When you're playing with Kessel, just draw one guy to you and get him the puck whenever you can," said Colborne, who had eight goals and seven assists in 19 games for the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies this season.
"Great play by (Kessel), that's why he's making the big bucks."
Colborne says nerves had him rattled in the first period but was able to settle down as the game progressed.
"The only way I can describe it as I felt like I was in quicksand," he said. "I felt a lot more comfortable in the third period and felt I was able to make some plays."
"I'm going take every second of it and use it as a learning experience. This summer is going to big for me ... coming back bigger, stronger and faster and ready to make a big contribution."
Frattin has been on a whirlwind ride since appearing in the NCAA's Frozen Four semifinals with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux this week. The 23-year-old forward signed a two-year entry level contract with the Maple Leafs on Friday and arrived in Toronto the next day with no time to practice with his new team.
Coach Ron Wilson paired him up with Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak, and the trio immediately clicked.
"I was most impressed with Matt Frattin," said Wilson. "Without ever having a practice there seemed to be some chemistry with Bozy and Nazy. They had a lot of scoring chances but not enough luck."
"He was a dog on a bone with the puck."
One of the scoring chances came with just over 30 seconds left in the first period. Kadri backhanded a pass to set up Frattin all alone in front of the net, but the rookie couldn't beat Price. He also had a partial breakaway four minutes into the second but again was stymied by Price.
"I had tons of chances today, probably could of had a couple (goals), but bounces weren't going my way," said Frattin.
Frattin was busy midway through the second, showing his passing skill with a nice cross-ice feed to Kadri, as well as taking a shot from the slot that Price handled easily.
"Great chemistry between me, Bozy and Kadri today ... hopefully a sign of good things to come," added Frattin.
Frattin was a finalist for the NCAA's hockey player of the year—the Hobey Baker Award—but lost to Miami (Ohio) forward Andy Miele, despite the Edmonton native leading all U.S college players with 36 goals. He was picked 99th overall by the Leafs in 2007.