"Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken." - Frank Herbert, Author of "Dune", 1965
It's easy to slip into a rut! Joel Armia knows it too. As you may recall, Armia, the 23 year old, 6'3", 205 lb right winger, was one of the cornerstone pieces that came back to the Winnipeg Jets when Evander Kane was unceremoniously jettisoned off to the Buffalo Sabres over one season ago. Drafted in the 1st round, 16th overall by Buffalo, Armia played the following 2 seasons in his native Finland, before coming over to North America ahead of the 2013-14 campaign.
Matias Strozyk had this to say on Eliteprospects.com in 2012 about Armia- "A large forward, Armia plays a simple and solid game. He likes to head towards the net and is very strong in one-on-one situations. Armia is extremely dangerous in the slot where he can create space for himself with a simple deke and then use his sharp and accurate shot to finish the play. Armia has good stickhandling and puck skills but could share the puck more often. He has built his physique well and added a new dimension to his game with improved defensive skills." Armia's stats speak for themselves...
But, what happened? My guess is high expectations and disappointment took it's toll. As you can see, Armia put up great numbers in the Finnish league, scoring 29 points (18g, 11a) in 48 games in his draft year, and followed up with 38 points in 54 games in '11-'12, and 33 points in 47 games in '12-'13 respectively. Then he kind of hit a wall. Despite playing very well with Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson on Buffalo's top line in preseason play, a broken hand against Columbus ended his top play for a time being.
Once healthy, Armia was sent to the Rochester Americans of the AHL, the farm team for the Buffalo Sabres, and struggled in putting pucks in the net. His confidence swayed, and his consistency needed improvement. Armia just had to put the work in, as quoted by his Americans coach at the time, Chadd Cassidy. Armia's game picked up the following year, again with the Americans, notching 10 goals and 25 points in 33 games, almost matching his previous years total with 19 less games played. Armia was in the upswing. Then, the Winnipeg Jets came a' calling.
Things come in three's, I'm convinced of that. Armia may be no exception to that superstition either. Firstly, coming to North America to play the game he loves meant his support base of familiarity wasn't readily available. Secondly, your first major injury has go to hinder your mindset. Overcoming both was paramount. And thirdly, being traded to start the process all over again with a new team, in new surroundings and such, Armia had it all within the first year and half of his professional North American hockey career. Not an easy thing to overcome, but that's the business of sports for you.
Once traded to the Winnipeg Jets, Armia was immediately assigned to the St. John's Ice Caps of the AHL and only scored 8 points in 21 games. Not exactly playing like the pivotal trade piece he was touted as, Armia stumbled. Then, the St. John's Ice Caps became the Manitoba Moose, and another move was in store, this time to Winnipeg, where both the Moose and the Jets would play out of the same building, the MTS Centre. Last season was split between the junior club, where he scored 8 points in 18 games, and the main club where he filled in due to injuries and solidified a spot for himself on the Jets' roster, netting 10 points in 43 games, despite having a few lower body injuries to endure. Flashiness in his game began to come out. The consistency of familiar surroundings, despite the club he was playing for, helped his game. Armia is in an upswing going into this upcoming season.
Then the Winnipeg Jets were awarded the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, and after months of speculation and drooling by the Winnipeg Jets faithful fans, the sure thing became the real thing when Patrik Laine was drafted 2nd overall. Laine's numbers are fantastic, and eerily similar to Armia's...
Laine has been in the news alot, and doesn't need an introduction. Again referring to Matias Strozyk on Eliteprospects.com in 2016 about Laine- "A natural scorer, Laine's greatest asset is his intimidating shot. He's not a speedy skater, but possesses power and a long stride, and protects the puck well with his large frame and longer stick. Overall, skating has been a minor issue through Laine's development but has improved with some help from his ability to read the game. Laine has the hunger to create chances on his own from the wing and actively looks for and creates opportunities to use his shot. His elite wrist shot is notable for its quick release and his powerful one-timer from the top of the circle is a constant threat on the man-advantage."
Side by side, the comparison story can be laid out. Last year, Laine put up 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists in 46 games) playing for Tappara of Liiga, the top Finnish hockey league. During Armia's final two years playing for Ässät of the same league, Armia put up similar numbers (38 points in 54 games, and 33 points in 47 games respectively). Even their WJC-20 play is comparable in stature, as Laine put up 13 points in 7 games (7 goals and 6 assists) and Armia put up 7 points in 7 games in '11-'12 and 12 points in 6 games in '12-'13.
I know what you're thinking...anybody can and will gain from playing with Laine. Drew Stafford, Mathieu Perreault, Nikolaj Ehlers. However, If anyone can awaken Armia, who some feel has been a bit of a letdown so far in his career, it's the opportunity to play on the same line with a skilled countryman in Laine. They come from the same leagues, same surroundings, same coaches, etc.. Familiarity and consistency will hopefully bring out the best in Armia, and help him reach his potential. Laine's confidence is bound to rub off on the quieter Armia too.
For some players, success doesn't mean things come about in a linear, straight line. Sometimes these peaks and valleys come about to test us. Armia went thru the formidable changes and challenges any hockey player must face in order to play out their dreams. Laine will no doubt have an easier route, just based upon the timing of his upswing. And low and behold, here they are, both on the upward trend together at the same time, and about to entire into their first NHL campaigns as teammates, and quite possibly linemates.
Armia's NHL plan likely looked like this...
What do you think? Will Armia step up to the plate this season, this being likely his first full season in the NHL? Will Armia increase his playing value and build upon the bridge deal he recently signed? Your thoughts and comments on lineups, etc are welcome below. Thanks for reading!