This past September, Sabres fans got something that many of them had been waiting for: a chance to see right winger Joel Armia skate in a Sabres uniform at the First Niagara Center.
Granted, it was just a preseason game against the Carolina Hurricanes, but there was a lot of hype surrounding Armia from the time the Sabres drafted him in 2011. He spent the seasons immediately following his draft in Finland, so this was Buffalo’s first real chance to see him in person, and see what he could do.
Fast forward ten months to the present as Armia makes his return to Buffalo this week for Sabres development camp. It’s his chance to start fighting for a chance in the NHL after spending last season with the Rochester Americans.
The Pori, Finland native made his debut on North American ice in the Rochester Americans game against the Hamilton Bulldogs on November 13. He had his first AHL point, an assist, in a win over the Utica Comets two days later. The next night, he scored his first AHL goal in a game against the Binghamton Senators.
He made his home debut in Rochester on November 20 in a game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Now, just take a minute to imagine this.
You’ve played your entire hockey career in Finland up until this point. You’re starting off in a completely new country, where the ice is smaller, the players are smaller – considering Armia had been playing in a pro league in Finland – and everything is new to you. Not only is that a big adjustment on the ice, it’s a big adjustment off the ice, too.
Overall, Armia had 27 points in 54 games with the Amerks. Some said that wasn’t enough and wondered why he was seemingly struggling. Rumors surfaced that he wanted to go home and play back in Finland.
But he was quick to dispel those rumors. Wonder why he was struggling? It’s an adjustment period, give him a break. Through the rumors, some injury spells, and adjusting to a different ice surface, a new country and a new league, Armia did what he could and he’ll only better from this point forward.
He had at least one shot in 47 of the 54 regular season games he appeared in this season, notching 110 shots in all. There were four nights when he registered at least five shots on net, including a season-high seven shots on goal in a game against Toronto in April. Just a handful of players had more shots than Armia, and all are AHL vets – Phil Varone, Luke Adam and Johan Larsson, for instance.
Armia had five multi-point games during the season and had seven points in the month of February alone.
The 21-year-old was spectacular in the postseason with the Rochester Americans, AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres.
He led the team in scoring with six points in five games against the Chicago Wolves.
His rookie playoff campaign included three goals – tied for the team lead with Brayden Irwin – and three assists. He had 10 shots on goal and averaged 1.2 points/game and 1.8 penalty minutes/game.
The postseason included a four-game night in game four against the Wolves. Armia had a pair of goals and two assists, three shots and was a plus-2 on the night.
Prior to the AHL, Armia spent three seasons with Assat Pori of the Finnish Elite League. He was consistently the youngest player on the roster, skating with guys who were up to 16 years his senior — yet he never looked out of place.
He had 29 points in his first year with Assat Pori, including 18 goals (2nd on the team) and 11 assists. The players who had more points than him ranged from six to 16 years older than him — and he was just 17 at the time.
The next year, he had 38 points in 54 games, third-most on the team. His final year on Assat Pori saw him score 33 points in 47 games, with the players ahead of him at least seven to 13 years his senior.
He’s got plenty of experience playing with the big veterans and as he continues to adjust to the North American play, Armia will only get more comfortable and better here. The 21-year-old is already pretty big – listed at 192, 6’3″, and you can’t miss him on the ice. Watch him this week on the ice at Sabres development camp.