LAKE PLACID, N.Y.
-- Joel Armia
knew exactly who was in the audience at the USA Rink at the Olympic Center on Tuesday, and he was out to impress.
To say it didn't go his way would be an understatement.
"I think I played the worst game I've ever played," he bluntly told NHL.com.
Armia, taken by the Buffalo Sabres
with the 16th pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, had an assist on Finland's lone goal, but was hoping for more with the caliber of audience watching.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula was standing on the glass for the entire game, flanked for most of that time by GM Darcy Regier
and coach Lindy Ruff
. In the stands was most of the Sabres' scouting staff, and Lake Placid is prime Sabres country.
No pressure, kid.
"He was under a lot of pressure today, and he did know it," a laughing Regier told NHL.com.
Armia admitted he knew before the game who would be watching, but said nerves weren't the reason for his self-described poor play.
"I didn't think about that, that they were here," he told NHL.com. "I don't know what happened."
At 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, Armia already looks like a fully-grown man at 18, but he admits he's not yet NHL-ready. He played on the first line with Assat in the Finnish Elite League, where he had 18 goals and 29 points in 48 games, and he'll be back there again this season, and build toward another shot at Finland's World Junior Championship team. He played on last year's team in Buffalo, but had just 1 assist in six games.
"He needs more (development) time," Regier told NHL.com. "He's like a lot of these guys. If you look at the older group of Swedes, they stand out, in large part, because of their additional experience and that's what Joel will need as well."
Armia said he hopes to get a bit bigger and stronger this season, and with his frame there's certainly room to support some extra muscle. The offensive skills already are obvious.
"After the first game here (Monday) I think it was fairly evident the hands he's got and his shot," Sabres Director of Pro Scouting Jon Christiano told NHL.com. "You don't question some of his offensive instincts and offensive skills from the blue line in. He made a real nice play setting up their first goal. He had a great chance where he blew down the left wing and deked (U.S. defenseman Justin) Holl and pounded the puck wide. Kind of like that. He's filling into his body a little bit, that's expected; he's still a young kid. On the offensive end of things, you have to like the natural skill."
"I thought at times he was good," added Regier. "I like his skating ability, his skill. Obviously it was a tough night, but we like his total package and his ability to score."
While Armia didn't think he showed too much skill Tuesday, but he might be alone in that feeling. Finland coach Raimo Helminen
said he's seen a player on the rise.
"I think he has gone little bit further already," Helminen told NHL.com. "He's better than last year, for sure. It looks like his skating is a little bit better, and he's a little bit stronger."
"He's a very skillful player," added Finland teammate Christopher Gibson
. "He sees holes that I might not even think are there. He makes good plays … he's a very skillful player."
And it's not like the Sabres are feeling any buyer's remorse.
"He's got a real good skill set," said Regier. "It's the growing and maturing process that pretty much all young players have to go through."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK