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Sabres happy with Armia's progress

by Adam Kimelman

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- With a home in the Olympic region, Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula has been a frequent presence at this week's USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp. He's kept an especially watchful eye on Finland forward Joel Armia, the team's first-round pick in 2011.

Heading into Saturday's camp finale against the United States, Armia has one goal in four games, but some of that lack of production can be attributed to Finland's brutal schedule this week -- Saturday's game will be their fifth game in six days.

"I think Joel's first game here on Monday I thought was the best I'd ever see him," Sabres director of pro scouting Jon Christiano told "I thought he was a real difference-maker in that game. He saw the puck a lot, he made things happen with it. I really liked his vision, how he distributed the puck, and I liked his compete level. He was trying to play the man, trying to play through guys on the forecheck. It was good to see that growth there. I think his last couple games have been a little less. I don't know if that's four games in five nights taking its toll. The way he played the first day is the way he's going to have to play more often."

Armia admitted this year's trip here hasn't been his best hockey, in part because of the schedule and in part because Finland entered Saturday's game 0-4 in Lake Placid.

"It hasn't been so good. I don't know why," he told "Sometimes it was decent play, good on the ice. Then I'm not. It's hard to say."

A 6-foot-3, 187-pound right wing taken by the Sabres with the 16th pick in 2011, Armia had 18 goals and 20 assists in 54 games with Pori in SM-liiga, but a knee injury limited him to three playoff games and delayed his offseason workout plan.

Christiano said Armia will play at least one more season in Finland, but said he's seen positive progression in the big forward's development.

"I think he still needs to get stronger," Christiano said. "I saw him in Finland last year. I was happy with his level of involvement. Going into some tougher areas, hanging around the front of the net, working the corners, keeping his feet moving. He's still a young kid, and there has to be growth in more areas. We have seen some, we have seen growth through our development camp last month. He's probably on pace where we're pleased, but like all these young guys they have to keep building on what their skills are and getting better in the areas where they're delinquent."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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