On The Bright Side: Joel Armia

Lately it seems Joel Armia has been a little more impressive every game for the Winnipeg Jets.

The trend likely started before Paul Maurice started giving him top nine minutes. After all, if he wasn’t improving there would have been no reason to give him those minutes in the first place. Since then, however, whether he’s been playing with Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers or Adam Lowry and Andrew Ladd, Armia has been a little more impressive every time he’s stepped on the ice.

Many people, myself included, thought that the departure of Ladd (with whom he seemed to be finding chemistry) would set Armia back and bring his slow-yet-steady progress to a halt, or at least slow it down. It took him all of one evening, the very same evening Ladd was traded in fact, to put those doubts to rest. His response to the trading of his linemate, whom he had set up for a pair of shorthanded goals in recent weeks, was inspired: his first two-goal game in the NHL, and an absolutely beautiful tally in the third period that may be the nicest goal a Winnipeg Jet has ever scored.

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You’d be forgiven for looking at this goal and having flashbacks to some of the all-time great inside-outside goals. While Armia is not Mario Lemieux, and isn’t expected to be, the goal does demonstrate two things the Jets need to see from the 2011 first round pick: progress, and confidence.

For a guy like Armia, in the midst of his first NHL season on a team that is having a rough year to put it mildly, you don’t need to see world-beating numbers. Good thing too, because you won’t see them from him, as he has eight points through 29 games. Not numbers that jump off the page for an established NHL veteran, but numbers that show some promise for an untested NHL rookie. Promise is the name of the game with youngsters on a team like Winnipeg, and much like Nikolaj Ehlers, Armia has been showing all kinds of it lately.

The highlight-reel tally against Dallas was Armia’s fifth point in his previous four games, and while his scoring streak ended abruptly against Pittsburgh on February 27, the fact that he served notice to the Jets hasn’t been forgotten. Somewhere in there is a future stud. Many who watched Armia closely always knew, and now the evidence is right there for everyone else to see.

Carving his own Legacy

It’s going to be a long time before Armia can shake the mantra of being just another part of the Tyler Myers trade. Even now, with the trade more than a year behind us and Armia having already played 28 more NHL games for the Jets than he ever did for Buffalo, announcers and play-by-play men looking for something to talk about mid-game will point out that Armia is only in Jets colours because he was part of a trade, a part some people considered a throw in. Brenden Lemieux may face the same problem one day as the other prospect in the deal.

At this point, it’s too early to say whether Armia is the piece that tips the scales of that trade in Winnipeg’s favour. It’s too early to say Buffalo gave up on him too soon, or that they had no future use for him anyway. All that can be said definitively at this point is that he is making progress.

The big Finn, who stands 6’3 and 192 lbs, is seeing regular minutes on the Jets’ third line with Adam Lowry and newly-acquired Marko Dano. That line in its entirety could be a big part of the Jets’ future. What the Jets and their fans will be looking for from that line in the final 21 games of the regular season is a glimpse of that future. They will want to see some hopeful signs for next season with the current one all but written off. So far, Armia has given Jets fans and management something to get excited about for next year.

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As bad as this season has been in Winnipeg, next year is shaping up to be a fun one. Between whatever player the Jets get with their high draft pick (dare we dream of Auston Matthews?), the possible graduation of the sublimely skilled Kyle Connor (who is a Hobey Baker frontrunner and is likely to get his own On The Bright Side feature soon enough) and the emergence of Ehlers as a top-six scoring threat, Winnipeg could be fun to watch next year. If he keeps this up, you can throw Armia onto the list of reasons to watch next year too.

The present for the Winnipeg Jets is rather bleak, as they sit 12 points back of Colorado for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The future, however, is looking a little better every day. Make no mistake, Armia is going to be a big part of that future.