Joel Armia is a study in contrast.
He shows flashes of brilliance at times, not only with terrific hands but great puck protection and cycling ability. He has the pedigree of a first round pick in 2011, and at times shows the skill to match. He has proven to be a beast shorthanded, leading the Jets in shorthanded goals last season and tying for the lead the year before.
Jets go on the penalty kill.
Or as we'll call it now, the Joel Armia power play.
— JetsNation (@NHLJetsNation) March 31, 2017
He has the mixture of size and skill coaches covet in a winger and has played up and down the lineup throughout his young career. And every now and then he does something jaw-dropping with the puck.
The fact that you weren’t sure which of his two sensational dangles I was going to put here speaks volumes. The guy can dipsy doodle.
So what’s the bad news? Well, all this skill and size have yet to amount to more than ten goals and 19 points in any season. The offense simply isn’t there, and neither are the possession stats.
As Garret Hohl noted in the Pilot’s Logbook, Armia and Adam Lowry had very similar shot generations, albeit with Lowry playing more minutes and more games. They also spent most of the year together, so it makes sense they would have similar stats.
Joel Armia's numbers sure are underwhelming for a first round pick. Only been in the league two years but yikes…
— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) May 21, 2017
Armia also had some trouble entering the zone with the puck. One thing you may have noticed last year, during those shifts where Armia, Lowry, and Shawn Matthias hemmed the other team in their own zone for long stretches, is that they were often fresh off the bench when it happened.
On the other hand, Armia’s at-times-dominant puck protection is a huge asset on the penalty kill. The shorthanded goals get a lot of attention, as they should, but his ability to kill the clock on the PK shouldn’t be overlooked.
What’s His Upside?
Armia’s frustratingly inconsistent play mixed with flashes of stickhandling genius make him difficult to project. While he’s no longer a really young player, he’s still only 24, and may not have peaked yet.
His current progression has him on pace to be a defensive specialist capable of hitting 15 goals, but every time I think of this and decide I’m ok with that considering he was just one part of the massive Evander Kane trade, I can’t help but recall goals like this. Does this look like the work of a defensive specialist?
Notice here not just the move through the neutral zone but the puck protection once he’s in the zone. Armia is not an easy player to take the puck away from. Of course, you’d think that would improve his possession stats, but with stronger linemates he could elevate those easily enough.
Now, there’s a reason this is called a highlight. We’re not looking at a typical example of Armia’s work, but there are enough samples of this type of play that it makes you wonder what’s missing from Armia to make him an elite player.
Some stronger linemates might help. You’ll notice that at the end of the play when Armia tries to start the cycle Lowry turns the puck over almost immediately. But stronger linemates may be hard to come by as the Jets set their roster with the deepest forward corps they’ve ever iced. Armia may end up back with Lowry and Matthias or Copp.
As mentioned, Armia is difficult to project. He’s not young but he is a young NHLer, as last year was only his second season, and he has yet to play a full 82-game season due to injuries and demotions.
Armia likely hasn’t peaked, but the question now is what do the Jets have to do to get him to the next level? How do you bring out the best in an enigmatic but skilled player?
If the Jets knew the answer to that, Alex Burmistrov might still be in town. And while Armia is not the same player as Burmistrov, there are some similarities.
A lot of the things we can say of Armia are things Jets fans once said of the frustrating Russian forward. He’s good on the penalty kill. He’s got great hands but he can’t put it all together. If only he had some better linemates. Sound familiar?
Armia’s game is more mature than Burmistrov’s of course. His shorthanded skills are better developed. And for all Burmistrov’s skill, he never scored a goal as nice as the one Armia potted against Dallas in 2016.
Ultimately Armia isn’t expected to be anything more than a skilled third liner, and that I think gives him an advantage. He’s not supposed to blow us away. If he never amounts to more than a strong bottom-six player, it wasn’t our first-round pick he took up.
And with the trade that brought him over also including Tyler Myers, Brendan Lemieux, and Jack Roslovic (ultimately) it feels almost like the Jets were playing with house money when they acquired him. That lack of pressure may help him to thrive.
This season will go a long way toward establishing what Armia is. With a deep, talented forward group all around him, he’ll have to carve out his own niche.
Whatever heights he hits, Jets fans can at least look forward to some superb penalty killing and shorthanded goals.