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Armia talks softly, carries an effective stick

Joel Armia is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career at the most opportune time for the Winnipeg Jets.

Joel Armia is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career at the most opportune time for the Winnipeg Jets.

Joel Armia is a soft-spoken guy, at least under the glare of the media spotlight, and isn't one to toot his horn.

But the six-foot-three, 205-pound forward is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career at the most opportune time for the Winnipeg Jets.

While Armia's compete level has been under scrutiny since he came over in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, the consistency of his work ethic, defensive efficiency and puck protection has been impossible to ignore during the Jets' playoff run.

Clearly impressed linemate Andrew Copp chimed in earlier this week:

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Joel Armia is a soft-spoken guy, at least under the glare of the media spotlight, and isn't one to toot his horn.

But the six-foot-three, 205-pound forward is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career at the most opportune time for the Winnipeg Jets.

While Armia's compete level has been under scrutiny since he came over in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, the consistency of his work ethic, defensive efficiency and puck protection has been impossible to ignore during the Jets' playoff run.

Clearly impressed linemate Andrew Copp chimed in earlier this week:

"He's been so good down low, strong, holding onto pucks and taking pucks to the net. Obviously, he got rewarded for that (Saturday) in Game 1 (against Vegas). He's got a really good stick in our own zone, too, so it's been huge for us, breaking up plays when we've been trapped in our own end.

"His puck skills are his best asset. On top of that, how he uses his body to protect it. He has a lot of strength down low, making teams defend and wearing them down over the course of a full game."

The Adam Lowry trio, with Armia and Copp on the wings, did a lot of heavy lifting in Winnipeg's last three outings: a defensively sound performance in Game 7 in Nashville — a 5-1 win for the Jets — last Thursday, and the first two games of the best-of-seven Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights, Saturday and Monday at Bell MTS Place.

In the series opener Saturday, the line demonstrated strong puck possession in the offensive zone, physical play, traffic in front and even generated an ugly, controversial tally on Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The goal, which bounced in off Armia's skate as he cruised past Fleury, proved to be the game-winner in a 4-2 triumph.

Two nights later, the Jets were trailing 2-0 in Game 2 when Armia stole the puck near the side post and got it to Copp, who rattled a quick shot off the post. Slashing the Golden Knights' lead in half early in the middle frame might have been a turning point; however, the Jets fell 3-1. The series is all square at 1-1 heading to Game 3 in Vegas Wednesday night (8 p.m., CBC, Sportsnet, TSN 1290).

"I think we've been playing pretty good. We've been moving our feet being on the forecheck and just pretty much keeping the puck in the offensive zone, so that's been a good thing," said Armia, who has a pair of post-season goals after scoring a career-high dozen of them en route to 29 points in his 79-game regular season.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice has raved about Armia's 'good stick'.



Winnipeg Jets' Joel Armia (40) gets shut down as he tries to jam the rebound past Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) and Shea Theodore (27) during second period of game two action in the NHL Western Conference Final in Winnipeg on Monday, May 14, 2018.

JOHN WOODS/ WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice has raved about Armia's 'good stick'. Winnipeg Jets' Joel Armia (40) gets shut down as he tries to jam the rebound past Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) and Shea Theodore (27) during second period of game two action in the NHL Western Conference Final in Winnipeg on Monday, May 14, 2018.

"But there's some things that we can be better at, too. It would be nice to be in the offensive zone every shift. That's not going to happen, probably," said the 24-year-old former first-round pick (16th overall) of the Sabres in 2011, who understands when he's most effective.

"Probably when I get the puck a lot, win a lot of battles and have the puck on my stick."

Jets head coach Paul Maurice has raved about Armia's "good stick" in the past, and echoed those comments this week.

"If you’ve got a good offensive stick, a lot of times you can have a good defensive stick. You anticipate where the puck is going and you can knock things down," Maurice said. "Again, I think there’s more offence there. I’d love to see him shoot the puck more, because he’s got a fantastic wrist shot, but he’s in the right spot to make his stick valuable."

Armia, who hails from Pori, Finland, is happy to oblige all interview requests, and the language barrier is no longer an issue. He's just shy and unassuming when the locker room doors are open.

He's also hugely popular with his teammates.

"He's not a quiet guy. He's such a funny guy, and fun to be around," said Patrik Laine, noting Armia was his first real buddy when arrived in Winnipeg in fall of 2016. "He was helping me a lot. He took me out for dinners and just showed me the town. It's so much easier to have a Finnish guy here who has already been here. He was kind of my big brother, taking care of me and helping out."

The Jets have another exciting Finnish player in the pipeline, 2017 first-round pick Kristian Vesalainen, whose NHL career likely isn't that far off.

Laine said he'll leave all future mentoring to No. 40.

"That's still Armie's job. He did a very good job with me, so he can do that with the next guy, too."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 12:46 PM CDT: Corrects typo in headline.

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