Young Leafs: The Carlo Colaiacovo Saga

Josh LewisSenior Analyst IJuly 30, 2008

Carlo Colaiacovo's career in hockey can be summed up by this: when you type his name into Google Image Search, the first photo returned shows him skating off the ice with the assistance of a trainer.

Every fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs knows Colaiacovo's story. Top prospect, first round pick, world junior star, sky-high potential—all of it ruined by injury.

Colaiacovo was selected in the first round of the 2001 draft, 17th overall, by the Leafs. He was considered an elite defense prospect and anchored Team Canada's blue line at the World Junior Championship for three straight years. Alas, the first revelation of the hero's fatal flaw came in his final year of junior with the Erie Otters, when injuries and an appearance at the World Junior limited him to just 35 games.

In five seasons since then, Colaiacovo has missed a whopping 179 games with the Leafs and Toronto Marlies—an average of 36 games per season—due to injuries ranging from a concussion to knee damage to a broken hand.

Every time Colaiacovo returns to the line-up and starts to get into a rhythm, he gets hurt again. This has greatly hindered his development. His career high is 48 games in 2006-07, when he put up eight goals and nine assists.

No one doubts Colaiacovo's ability, though. When healthy, he's a devastating hitter with good shutdown ability and some offense. He's got the talent to be a legitimate top four defenseman at the very least.

Heck, if not for his lengthy injury list, I have no doubt he'd be making up the top pairing with Tomas Kaberle right now. But the fact of the matter is that Colaiacovo isn't on the top pairing, and he isn't always healthy. His woes have caused him to be leapfrogged on the depth chart by Anton Stralman and, to an extent, Ian White.

Colaiacovo will most likely come into camp competing for a spot on the third pairing, and that's even if Bryan McCabe or Pavel Kubina is dealt. If he stays healthy (a colossal 'if'), he will have the opportunity to work his way into the top four, but that would require outplaying either Stralman or Jeff Finger.

Colaiacovo is in much the same situation Nik Antropov found himself in last year. He's coming into training camp facing a make-or-break season. If he stays healthy, he has the chance to take on a bigger role, but if he doesn't, he's likely gone.

We all know what Antropov did last year. That doesn't mean Colaiacovo will thrive this season, but maybe he can learn from his Kazakh teammate. Be confident, pick your spots, and use your skills on a more consistent basis. Those are the keys to a successful year for Carlo.

Let's hope that top-end talent will finally shine through. But I wouldn't bet the family pig on it.

Prediction: 54 games, 10 g, 16 a, 26 pts