At 6-foot-3 and 191 pounds, Joel Armia already has a man's build. And with 12 goals and 19 points in 30 games with Assat Pori in the Finnish Elite League, he's developing into a star playing against men.
The next step for Armia will come in June, when the 17-year-old power forward is drafted -- probably early -- at the 2011 Entry Draft in Minnesota.
Armia, a native of Pori, Finland, is the second-ranked European skater in NHL Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, and the top-rated skater from Finland.
That outstanding play was supposed to be on showcase earlier this month at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo. While the tournament is geared toward 19-year-olds, there was a lot of expectation in Armia based on his outstanding start in SM-Liiga. However, with just 1 assist and a plus-1 rating in six games, he had what could be called an underwhelming tournament.
Rather than see that result drag him down, Karri Kivi, an assistant coach for Finland at the WJC, actually sees it as something that will benefit Armia down the road.
"He was the youngest kid on the (WJC) team and a lot of expectations were placed on him for the tournament," Kivi said. "I think he's not satisfied, but he tried all the time. I think it was a small surprise to him how tough the tournament would be, but we didn't expect him to be the No. 1 star in every game. He learned a lot."
While scouts were hoping for more, they liked some of what they saw.
"He didn't play quite as well as I expected," said an NHL scout from a Western Conference team. "I was hoping to see more; he's been scoring unbelievably good in the Finnish league. He's got a lot for a 17-year-old in that league. Obviously he's big, but needs to fill out. His skating is good and he moves to the net well."
The World Juniors is just six games in a season, and any scout will tell you that he can't place too much stock in it. While how a player responds in that kind of high-pressure situation -- and in Armia's case, on the smaller North American ice surface -- does tell a lot, scouts aren't ready to give up on Armia because of one subpar outing.
"He's a solid draft pick, and has two big tournaments left to redeem himself -- Four Nations in February and the Under-18 World Championships in April," the scout said. "Do well at those and you could go higher. If you don't do well, you could fall down a little."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org