Joel Armia joined the Montreal Canadiens via trade with the Winnipeg Jets this past offseason. He was part of a deal that allowed the Jets to shed salary by offloading Steve Mason and his $4.1 million cap hit. The Habs were able to utilize their cap space to their advantage for some assets, and in Armia, the Canadiens got a big body who slotted into the bottom six. It was a move that was overshadowed by some of the major overhauling the Habs did this past offseason but one that seems to have panned out quite nicely.
At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, the Finnish forward is a big strong player who uses his body well to protect the puck. What has come as a bit of a surprise is the high level of skill that he has displayed so far this season. Last season’s playoffs were a sort of coming-out party for Armia. While playing with the Jets, he played quite well before they were eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights and it translated to early success this season.
In 26 games, he has recorded six goals and six assists for 12 points, providing the secondary scoring a successful team needs from their bottom-six forwards. He is able to play in all situations and has become a large part of the team’s penalty kill and has even received some time on the power play.
On Nov. 6 against the New York Rangers, Armia collided knee-on-knee with Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith. This resulted in Armia missing 25 games while the Habs logged a 12-9-4 record in his absence. During this time the Habs struggled to find consistency on their third line next to fellow Finns Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen.
Coach Claude Julien deployed several different line combinations but the lack of chemistry was quite evident during their play, resulting in Julien really shuffling his lineup from top to bottom over this stretch of games. The penalty kill also struggled during this stretch. Paul Byron being injured for the entire month of November didn’t help this of course, but it was evident Armia was being missed after the Canadiens allowed four power play goals on the road against the Minnesota Wild during a 7-1 thrashing Dec. 11.
The Wild went 4-for-4 on the power play, including two goals by Matt Dumba, in a 7-1 win against the Canadiens. https://t.co/57d3zJTJBv
— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) December 12, 2018
The Triumphant Return
On Jan. 3, Armia returned to the lineup at home against the Vancouver Canucks. He recorded an assist in his return but more importantly he had 15:58 of ice-time and looked fully recovered from his knee injury. Since his return, the Canadiens have won seven of 11 games, and during that span are averaging just 1.91 goals against per game.
Yes, the recent play of goaltenders Carey Price and Antti Niemi have played a significant role in this as well, but the return of Armia really helped solidify their play in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. Also during this 11-game stretch that led into the All-Star break, he contributed three goals and two assists for five points.
On a points-per-game basis, he’s having the best season of his career (0.46 points-per-game compared to 0.37 points-per-game in 2017-18) and has certainly been a nice surprise offensively. But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about Armia’s offensive output so far.
Sean Gordon of The Athletic wrote an interesting article about what Habs players themselves think about their teammates. Armia’s teammates voted the Finn as having the best wrist shot on the team with one player being quoted “Army’s got a phenomenal wrist shot. His wrist shot is ridiculous. Ask the goalies that question” (from ‘Find out what the Canadiens think of each other in this super scientific player survey’ – The Athletic – 1/30/19).
On a team with shooters like Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin, this is quite the compliment for a player not known for his offensive prowess. Having this type of skill on your third line is so important for successful teams and the Canadiens’ depth at the forward position has been key.
When watching Armia play, he brings a calming presence on the ice and never seems to panic when the puck is on his stick. He may not have lived up to the hype that comes with being a first-round draft pick (15th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2015), but at just 25 years of age, I believe we are seeing the best version of him.
I am a lifelong hockey fan and have been following the Canadiens since the early 90’s. Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, I had the opportunity to watch and analyze the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate from 2002-2015.