When the Winnipeg Jets traded Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres, most fans focused on veterans Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers as to what the Jets received in the deal. Not many had heard of a Finnish winger who had size and potential, but had yet to fulfill his promise.
Joel Armia was selected in the first round by the Sabres in 2011, with the idea that Armia would develop into a power forward for Buffalo. Armia is tall, standing 6-3, but only weighed around the 180 pound mark. The Sabres knew he needed time to fill out his frame so Armia stayed in Finland and played for his hometown club team, Porin Assat.
The Finland Years:
Armia honed his game in his homeland and put up some decent numbers. His last two seasons saw Armia produce 38 points (18 G, 20 A) in 54 games and 33 points (19 G, 14 A) in 47 games respectively.
Armia also represented his country at the World Junior Championships on three occasions. While he wasn’t a factor in his first appearance, Armia was one of Finland’s best players in his other two appearances, even though the team struggled. He led the Finns in scoring at the 2013 WJHC, averaging 2 points a game, (6 G, 6 A) in 6 games. The next step for Armia was to head across the Atlantic, and learn the North American game.
Hard Learning Curve:
Despite his success in Finland, Armia had a difficult time adjusting to the North American style. After a tepid preseason which saw him suffer an injury, Armia was sent down to Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester at the start of the 2013-14 season. He didn’t set the AHL on fire in his first season, as his 27 points (7 G, 27 A) would attest. The injury did slow his development but the fact that Armia couldn’t crack a Sabres team that finished last overall was detrimental in the eyes of management.
The 2014-15 season began the same way as the previous season for Armia, in Rochester trying to find his game. His game began to improve as Armia acclimated to North American hockey. His hard work finally paid off as he was called up to the Sabres in December of 2014. But the joy didn’t last long. After appearing in only one game, Armia was sent back to Rochester.
Armia needed a change of scenery as the Sabres had basically given up on him. Cue the Winnipeg Jets. Buffalo dealt their young winger, along with veterans Stafford and Myers plus prospect Brendan Lemieux to the Jets for Kane and Zach Bogosian. Armia reported to St. John’s as the Jets were pushing for a playoff spot and thought that the young Finn wasn’t ready for the pressure of the stretch drive.
Armia’s first training camp with the Jets opened some eyes. Placed on a line with Lemieux and Andrew Copp, the trio looked strong in inter-squad scrimmages and preseason games. But it wasn’t good enough to make the opening day lineup and Armia was back in the AHL, this time with the Manitoba Moose.
But Armia got his break thanks to injuries and some inconsistent play by some Jet veterans. On December 18, 2015, Armia made his Jets debut and he’s been with the team ever since.
He was expected to be a grinder. A fourth line type that sees limited minutes and asked to keep it simple. But with each passing game, Armia started seeing more ice time and was starting to impress head coach Paul Maurice. In an interview with Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press, Maurice commented on Armia’s play early in 2016.
“He’s a different player today than he was in that first stint and in training camp. I think he took a lot in. Sometimes a player gets it in his mind where he finally decides “I belong, I can play here.”
Armia’s role grew to which he added penalty killing to his NHL resume. He also showed a tiny bit of offensive flair as well. Witness this beauty he scored against Dallas.
Even though the Jets missed the playoffs, Armia’s play was a bright spot. His 50.4% CF in 43 games showed he was responsible in his own end and he could be trusted in puck possession.
Fast forward to this season and Armia found himself on a line with Shawn Matthias and Adam Lowry. The trio was expected to be a physical, gritty line that would make life difficult for the opposition. Offence would be a bonus but at times a necessity. They would also be featured in the penalty kill. What surprised many observers was how strong Armia was on his stick. His puck thievery skills were on full display, especially during this shift against Carolina in the season opener.
Things were looking good for Armia. It looked like he would finally see his potential and become the solid pro many expected him to be. Then came the injury. On November 3 in Washington, Armia suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for 24 games.
I missed watching Joel Armia play hockey. He’s so smooth. So intelligent with and without the puck.
— Kyle McClintock (@KMcClintock85) December 28, 2016
Armia returned just before Christmas but he hasn’t been as effective like he was at the start of the season. His CF% has dropped below 50%. (49.6% to be exact. Not terrible but should be better.) Why you may ask? Perhaps the Jets rushed him back from injury too soon. Ankles are particularly difficult to gauge the severity of the injury. They can nag a player for an entire season and may not properly heal without sufficient rest. Sometimes, ankle injuries can linger for months if it isn’t given enough rest. Yes, the Jets missed Armia as the team was hit hard with a slew of injuries. But rushing back players too soon can be very damaging to their health.
Armia still hasn’t reached his full potential. He has shown signs of being a very good two-way forward who could use a bit more of a finishing touch. But the team needs to be aware of usage and when a player is hurt or not. The Jets need Armia at his best to give them depth and options. He’s still young enough to grow and elevate his game.