June 16, 2011 1 Comment
Nothing like a young Swedish forward dominating the juniors to open the eyes of some NHL scouts. Assat Pori right wing Joel Armia did just that.
“Day by day he was getting better, and what I mean by better is his puck handling … he has great hands and a good hockey sense,” Assat Pori head coach Pekka Rautakallio said in an interview with NHL.com. “He has surprised everyone in the whole country, especially the hockey people.”
After averaging almost a point per game in the Finnish junior A league, Armia was called up to the Finnish Elite League for the 2010-11 season – and was immediately placed on the first line. In 48 games with the club, Armia has posted 18 goals and 29 points, in addition to a plus-nine rating.
“He’s big and tall but surprisingly mobile for a player of his size,” NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. “He’s a sniper with a good selection of shots. You might have to look for him during some shifts, but then, suddenly, he scores the winner. He has a very good feel for the game and moving the puck well with his linemates. He has a heavy wrist shot that he gets off quickly and is always looking for the empty spots on the ice.”
“I really liked him this summer,” said one NHL GM in an interview with The Hockey News. “He had a really great tournament in Piestany in August and I think he struggled a little bit in this tournament, but he has tremendous upside; a big kid who can skate with good hands.”
Indeed, the General Manager was correct. He has great size (6-doot-3, 191 pounds) and can skate better than the majority of the players on his team (including those double his young age). His hands rival the best prospects in the world, while his hockey sense helps contribute to his success. However, some executives weren’t too impressed with his play at the World Junior Championships in January, citing an inability to use his size to his advantage, in addition to simply not being committed to two-way play.
“He did not play quite as well as I expected (at WJC),” said one NHL scout from a Western Conference team. “I was hoping to see more; he’s been scoring unbelievably good in the Finnish league. Obviously he’s big, but needs to fill out. His skating is good and he goes to the net well. Maybe I expected him to do a little more with the puck, be a little more creative. He’s a solid draft pick and he’ll go high in the draft. It might have been a bit of culture shock for him playing in a big tournament in North America. Armia will be back at World Juniors next year, though, and be much improved.”
These critiques led to his demotion to the fourth-best European, according to NHL Central Scouting in their final rankings. But regardless of spot on the list, Armia’s coach knows that after spending another year in Finland next year, he will be just fine.
“We have a great program here, play three games a week and practice with the weights,” Rautakallio told NHL.com. “He needs another year or two to get better. He takes good care of himself. He loves hockey so much. We had two all-time winters (in Finland), so the natural ice was great outdoors. When we were done with our four hours of practice, Joel would continue playing on the natural ice all the time. I’ve seen so much potential in all categories of his game — the big challenge for him is to improve over his rookie season.”
Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.