The Buffalo Sabres went into the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft with a specific player in mind, and they got him with the 16th overall pick, selecting Finnish forward Joel Armia.
“This was the guy that we were hoping to get,” said Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine. “He’s 6-foot-3, he’s got great hands, great play-making ability, pure goal scorer, and I think he’s going to put on 10 or 15 more pounds.”
Armia spent the 2010-11 season playing with Assat of the Finnish Elite League. He also skated at HSBC Arena as he represented Finland in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship, but it was his play in Finland, against older competition, that drew the Sabres to the 17-year-old Armia.
“He’s someone we feel is already, at his level, a power forward, very good ability to score, terrific scorer,” said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier. “The fact that he’s played in the Elite League against men and performed at a high level bodes well for him, so we’re excited.”
Regier added, “I expect him to go back (to Finland) at least for one more year, then we’ll have to see from there.”
Although Armia will most likely play next season in Finland, the 6-foot-3, 191-pound native of Pori, Finland was thrilled to be drafted by Buffalo.
“I’m very excited,” he said moments after being selected.
When asked what aspect of his game needs improving, Armia noted his skating and his strength. He added, however, that scoring goals is a strength of his. He scored 18 times in 48 games with Assat last season and Devine noted that “his goal is to score goals.”
Armia’s ability and desire to score goals drew comparisons to Finnish great Teemu Selanne from Armia’s coach with Assat, Pekka Rautakallio, who also noted there was room for improvement in his game.
“He's going to be a different kind of Finn in the NHL,” Rautakillo told NHL.com prior to the Draft. “He just needs to add a couple more kilos to that frame of his. I know there have been comparisons to Teemu Selanne, but while they both have that sniper mentality, Teemu was quicker when he arrived in the NHL. The thing I like about Joel is he's very humble. He wants to know what I expect and he's willing and ready to execute it. That tells me he really wants to learn how to play, how to be a better hockey player.”
While the Sabres watched Armia skate in Buffalo during the World Juniors, they also had as many as three different scouts travel overseas to watch him play in Finland at various times and compiled a healthy amount of video to go along with their in-person accounts.
“He’s been on the radar since August,” Devine explained. “Eric Weissman, one of our scouts, went over and watched a tournament in August, and he was the best Finnish player there.”
From there, they continued to watch him and eventually made up their minds that he was their target.
Central Scouting’s Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb also offered an evaluation of Armia.
“He's big and tall but surprisingly mobile for a player of his size,” Stubb said. “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. 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."
In other Sabres news, Regier told reporters on Friday that the team re-signed goaltender David Leggio. The Williamsville, NY native went 22-12-5 with a 2.80 goals against average, a .911 save percentage and three shutouts last season for Portland of the AHL.