Joel Armia Never Had a Chance

What could have been a great opportunity for Joel Armia to make an impression with the Winnipeg Jets turned out to be no opportunity at all.

After playing well with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and being their best forward for much of the season, Armia was given what might have proved to be his big break, being recalled by the Jets after the demotion of Nic Petan. Many assumed Armia would be rotated in and out of the lineup the way Petan had been before his demotion, but the only action in a Jets uniform Armia ever saw was during the Jets skills competition on December third.

Hopefully it was fun while it lasted, because it doesn’t look as though Armia will get a chance to suit up for the Jets again for some time yet.

Armia was returned to the Moose this morning after three weeks up with the big club. In those three weeks, he never dressed once, and the decision to keep him out of the lineup was a head scratcher. After all, the big Finn wasn’t exactly well served sitting in a suit during his recall, and while Armia’s best interests certainly weren’t represented by that, neither were those of the Winnipeg Jets.

Armia’s offensive abilities have been fairly well established and are not in question. His size enables him to play the grinding, cycling style of game the Jets employ when they’re at their best, and his professional, two-way game has been rounding into form nicely with the AHL. Perhaps most important of all, he’s willing to shoot the puck, something sorely lacking from certain members of the Jets at times in recent weeks.

For an organization heavily embroiled in the draft and develop method, this would seem to have been a golden opportunity to, well, develop a player by giving him a shot. Instead, their recalled young player was not allowed to make his NHL debut. So why wasn’t Joel Armia given a chance?

An Opportunity Lost

The Evander Kane-Tyler Myers swap of last year had many Jets fans scratching their heads and saying “Who the heck is Joel Armia, and why are some of my friends so excited about him?” While he was a relative unknown to some before his trade, Armia and Brenden Lemieux were the wildcards in that swap, the pieces that had the potential to really swing the deal in Winnipeg’s favour. Armia’s recent recall was a chance to see yet another phase of that trade in action, but it was a chance passed on by the Jets’ coaching staff.

Make no mistake, not only do the Jets have a use for what Armia could bring, they’ve had every incentive to get him in the lineup in a position to succeed. The Jets have played several back-to-backs this season, and could have used Armia to either keep other players fresh for the second day or provide fresh legs on the second day himself. In both their recent losses to Chicago, the Jets could have used a spark, and Armia could have been the one to provide it.

Armia could also have given the third line a much needed infusion of offense. Jets fans have (often and loudly) lamented the times Chris Thorburn has played in the top nine, as he is a hard worker but not truly a point producer. Thorburn seems a step behind talented young Dane Nikolaj Ehlers, and is not the type of line mate the rookie needs to bring out the best in him. Armia would have been a great fit on this line with his size and shot, and would have given Ehlers somebody to pass to.

Of course the argument could be made that Thorburn is not the problem here.

Missing from that list of players Chris Thorburn currently has more goals than is the other part of that line, Alexander Burmistrov. I know Burmistrov wasn’t being counted on to light the lamp on a nightly basis, but his two goals are inadequate production, and unfit for bringing out the best in the slumping Ehlers. Ehlers needs teammates who can get him the puck and who can shoot, and the last several games Burmistrov has been neither. Some time in the press box might do Burmistrov some good, and it would be a great opportunity to get Armia in the lineup.

Anthony Peluso’s name is often floated around as a player who should’ve come out in favour of Armia, but Peluso has been playing better of late, and his line with Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry is starting to click. Either way, however, this is another line Armia could likely have added some scoring punch to.

Joel Armia Will Return

This isn’t the last we’ll see of Armia here in Winnipeg. The big Finn was sent down, yes, but a recall is literally just a trip down the hallway away, and with the Jets having the next three days off and the Moose playing twice on those days, it’s possible this is just an effort by the Jets to get him some ice time.

Still, this doesn’t change the fact that, for a self-professed draft and develop organization, calling up a young player and having him sit out every game seems counter intuitive. Armia will return to the Jets, hopefully soon, and when he does, here’s hoping this time he gets a chance to show Jets fans part of their exciting future.

Because on this go around, Joel Armia never had that chance.