As Canada found out Wednesday night, the World Junior Championship isn’t always about triumph. For Finnish right winger Joel Armia, his first taste of under-20 pressure was a mixed bag.
“It was a great experience,” Armia said, “and you’re always happy to represent Finland at a tournament like this.”
But success wasn’t in the cards for Armia or his team. Finland was the first to taste the sting of Russia’s ‘Kardiac Kids’ when Evgeny Kuznetsov dismantled the Suomi defense in the dying minutes of the quarterfinal to erase a two-goal Finland lead and turn it into an overtime loss. Then the Finns dropped the fifth-place game to Switzerland in a shootout that was emotionless on both sides. Armia, who looked good as a physical player who can throw a big check, nevertheless tallied just one assist in six games, a far cry from the great start he got off to in the SM-liiga this season.
“I am sure he is going to be a great player and he will have a chance to play in the NHL,” said Finnish coach Lauri Marjamaki. “But there are steps to take. His skating has to be better and in 1-on-1 situations he has to be better. But he is a young player and I think this was a great experience for him.”
Armia was a force for the Finns at the Ivan Hlinka tournament (under-18) over the summer and that started him on a track that led to the 6-foot-3 winger being a fast riser on NHL draft charts.
“I really liked him this summer,” said one NHL GM. “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.”
Back in Finland, Armia has been a solid contributor to Assat Pori. He has a team-high 12 goals and his 19 points in 30 games ranks fourth on the squad.
“I developed a lot over the summer and got a lot of confidence,” Armia said. “I’m getting opportunities this year.”
As for his strengths, Armia said, “Probably shooting and size. I would say goal-scoring as well, but not at this tournament.”
But there’s always next year. The Finns will be in tough in 2012, drawing into a pool with Canada and the United States, but will have a lot of key players back. Mikael Granlund (who missed this year’s tourney with a concussion) and 2010 leading scorer Teemu Pulkkinen will be available, along with Armia’s 2011 draft mate Miikka Salomaki and 2012 blueline prospect Olli Maata, both of whom played in Buffalo.
With another year in Finland under his belt, Armia will only get stronger and his hands are undeniable. They always say you can’t teach size and the big Finn certainly has that. Like another 2011 eligible big man, Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, Armia is pretty shy right now and got help from teammate Erik Haula – who has played in North America for two years now with Omaha of the United States League and the University of Minnesota – when conducting interviews.
But there’s nothing quiet about his upside, just ask the scouts who know what the Finn brings to the table.
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