Armia wants to revive Jets’ penalty-kill

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While Joel Armia was a fixture on the Winnipeg Jets’ much-maligned penalty kill last season, he’s regarded as much less of a problem and more of the solution to repairing it.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/09/2017 (1794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While Joel Armia was a fixture on the Winnipeg Jets’ much-maligned penalty kill last season, he’s regarded as much less of a problem and more of the solution to repairing it.

Providing key minutes with the Jets a man short constitutes much of what the 6-3, 205-pound right-winger hopes to contribute to the Central Division club during the 2017-18 NHL campaign.

He’s well aware a significant improvement to the special-teams play is paramount if the club’s intend on pushing for an elusive playoff spot.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets Matt Hendricks and Joel Armia (right) jostle for the puck Saturday at the Iceplex.

“We need to be better,” Armia, 24, said matter-of-factly during a chat this weekend at the Iceplex. “For sure, we need to stop those goals.”

The Jets yielded 62 power-play goals in 82 games — a poisonous statistic for a team that lost 11 one-goal games during the regular season. It was also involved in 14 ties, stealing extra points in overtime or shootouts in half of those battles.

Overall, Winnipeg finished 28th in the league on the penalty kill, registering just a 75.2 per cent efficiency rating. Only the New Jersey Devils (73.7) and Vancouver Canucks (74.7) were worse.

Despite the unit’s struggles, Armia, who had 10 goals and nine assists in an injury-shortened 57-game season, demonstrated some effectiveness last season, using a long reach, active stick and solid skating to earn regular duty. He also led the club with four short-handed tallies (including a beauty on an end-to-end rush against New Jersey), one goal back of league-leader Viktor Arvidsson of the Nashville Predators.

Armia’s face lights up when discusses hindering an opponent’s power-play opportunities.

“It’s fun to play the PK,” he said. “I know how frustrating it is to be on the power play when the PK is aggressive and you don’t get chances, so that’s one thing that motivates me, to do it to the other team.

“Those (short-handed) goals are nice and if i get my chances it’s OK, but (the) first thing is to limit their chances. It’s a fun job.”

This weekend, Armia, a former first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, has skated on the right side of his usual centre, Adam Lowry, while Kyle Connor flanked the duo on the left.

Armia said he skated more during the off-season than ever before, seeking any edge to being a more productive, consistent top-nine forward.

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It’s early in camp and debate on former college star Tucker Poolman’s NHL readiness will rage for another few weeks.

But Jets head coach Paul Maurice said the 24-year-old blue-liner from East Grand Forks, Minn., has looked impressive during drills the first few days of training camp with Group 1, which comprises the bulk of the Jets’ 2016-17 roster.

“From an injury point of view, he had all good strength in the corners. There wasn’t anything to say he was sheltering. And, just from a hockey point of view, I thought he looked really good in those drills,” Maurice said.

Poolman, 6-3, 217 pounds, a right-shooting defenceman who played three seasons at the University of North Dakota was on the receiving end of a brutal hit in the U.S. college hockey playoffs and required surgery on both shoulders in the spring.

After months on the mend, he skated a couple of times in Winnipeg earlier this month, accompanied the Jets’ squad to the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C., and played in the team’s final contest — a 4-1 triumph over Calgary — and is now at main camp, paired primarily with veteran Toby Enström.

“The thing it takes a while for a young defenceman to learn is how to go back and get the puck, when to protect it, when to move it, how to evade a guy in the corner,” Maurice said. “He had no problem figuring it out.”

Poolman is in a battle with Ben Chiarot for the seventh defensive position, but is most likely destined to begin the year with the Manitoba Moose, the team’s AHL affiliate.

He said the last few weeks have been a whirlwind but he’s starting to settle into his new surroundings. Most importantly, the shoulders aren’t a concern.

“(Drills include) a lot of one-on-ones and rushes and boxing out, so it was another good test for them and strengthening them, and they feel fine,” he said. “I can tell they’re fixed and they’re sturdy.”

Poolman said the speed of the Calgary Flames prospects in Penticton was one thing, but crippling the forward progress of bona fide NHLers is a much taller task.

“It’s a good pace. Obviously we have great players so it was good to get out and compete with them,” he said. “It’s interesting. You hop out there and you’re taking two-on-two rushes and you got guys building speed, so you gotta get your feet moving quick.”

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The Jets will address a veteran-laden squad when they host the Minnesota Wild in their first of seven NHL pre-season tests today at 7 p.m. at Bell MTS Place (TSN3 TV, 1290 TSN Radio).

Maurice will have goalies Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie at his disposal. On the blue line, veterans Dustin Byfuglien, Enström and Chiarot will be joined by Poolman, Nelson Nogier and Logan Stanley.

Up front, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele will dress, as will Mathieu Perreault, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers, Armia, Marko Dano and Lowry. Rounding out the forward crew are Connor, Brendan Lemieux and Michael Sgarbossa.

“You give the veteran players a certain number of games. Four is the number, four to five (for) most of them,” Maurice said. “We’ve got guys who came in off injuries (Enström and Tyler Myers) that we’ll keep out of the first game. I wanted to get them through three of four days of training (camp).

“Primarily, it’s about getting your team ready for Toronto (the season-opener, Oct. 4 at home), and then it’s about filling in and giving the young guys a chance. We do have a lot of competition for slots eight through 12 (up front) and getting those guys some games.”

The rival Wild are expected to counter Monday with a roster that includes goalies Steve Michalek and Niklas Svedberg, defencemen Mike Reilly, Ryan Murphy, Gustav Olofsson, Kyle Quincey, Alex Grant, Carson Soucy and Brennan Menell, and forwards Charlie Coyle, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno, Cal O’Reilly, Luke Kunin, Ryan Malone, Daniel Winnik, Kyle Rau, Landon Ferraro, Sam Anas, Zack Mitchell, Justin Kloos and Tyler Ennis.

Winnipeg has a busy week, hosting the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday at 7 p.m., battling the Wild at Xcel Energy Center at 7 p.m. on Thursday and then venturing to Edmonton for a rematch Saturday night at 8 p.m.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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