Friday, May 27, 2011

2011 NHL Draft Prospects: Joel Armia Sniper for Rangers?

The 2011 draft now less than one month away, and the Rangers scouting and front office staff is looking through many prospects to see who they want to select with the 15th overall selection.  With the current state of the Rangers defense both at the NHL and prospect level one would expect that New York will look for offense in the first round of the draft hoping to find an impact scorer.  Tuesday, I took a look at Mark Scheifele, who is a center from the OHL that produced against the best the opposition had to offer despite playing with inferior talent around him.  Wednesday, Mark McNeill and his power forward type personality in the body of a center was the prospect under the microscope.  Yesterday, it was Zack Phillips of the Saint John Sea Dogs who is a sniper first and foremost.  Today, I will look at a player who has seemed unlikely to fall to 15, Joel Armia of Assat of the Finnish Elite League.
Ranked 4th for European Skaters in Final Central Scouting Rankings after being ranked 2nd at Mid-Term and was ranked 13 in the International Scouting Services final overall rankings.
Armia is a goal scoring winger with excellent size at 6’3” and 191 pounds, but could use more weight and strength on his frame.  Armia posted 18 goals and 11 assists in 48 games for Assat which is quite the accomplishment for a 17-year-old.  His 18 goals ranked him tied for 11th in the league and everyone ahead of him was at least 23-years-old.
Armia is considered to be exceptionally skilled in all the offensive areas of the game from puck handling to goal scoring, which is something the Rangers severely lack at the current time.  The question with him appears to be effort based, which is a red flag for many teams, but someone will overlook that given the exceptional skill set.   
The Scouting Report (Ranked 9, midterm):
Armia has been the big wildcard riser in this draft thus far, and despite a bit of an average showing at the World Junior’s, he’s firmly entrenched himself as a Top 15 pick. Some may be a little leery of a Finnish player rising this much, but Armia is a big winger with a lot of offensive skill. He’s still a little raw and needs to continue to add strength and grow into his frame, but he has the tools to be a quality goal-scoring forward in the NHL.
Kirk Luedeke of Bruins Draft Watch’s:
Took charge up front for Finland and proved himself a solid first-round selection with his offensive performance. His big frame needs work to add mass and strength, but he's got a long stride and the ability to generate speed and separation. He's still a little gangly and not overly strong on his skates, but getting there. A vicious killer between the hashmarks- wants the puck and knows what to do with it when he gets it. One of the best pure goal scorers in the draft and impressed us with his vision and playmaking skills in this tourney as well. Creative and a better puck distributor than we gave him credit for. Not very physical, but not a soft player, either. Uses his trunk and long limbs to create space and bull his way to the net. Doesn't speak English very well yet, but uses two very important words often: "puck" and "score". His effort without the puck is what is holding him back from a top-10 selection in our view. He can be lackadaisical and is inconsistent in his backchecking efforts. If its a maturity thing, he could be a homerun pick, but if he's only motivated offensively, then he's a one-dimensional guy and may never be as good a player as he should be.
After a blazing start to his first Finnish SM-liiga season, there were a lot of expectations placed on Joel Armia to continue his prodigious ways at the world juniors in Buffalo.  The opportunity was certainly there, but Armia couldn’t get on track as the Finns bombed out of the medal round.  Experts weren’t too concerned.  ‘People expected him to carry that team,’ one scout said.  ‘But sometimes goal-scorers go into a slump and when they do, it looks awful.’  Fortunately for Armia, he looked good playing against men back home.  ‘He’s 6-foot-3 and a pure goal-scorer,’ the scout said.  ‘The biggest thing with him is, he gets the puck to net.’  It’s not uncommon for the big power forward to throw six or seven shots on goal in a game and there have been double-digit totals, too.  Despite the world juniors hiccup, Armia was one of the top goal-scorers on Assat this season and is especially lethal on the power play.
There are always concerns when the thing that is holding a player back from being a top-10 type selection is effort based, but with the Rangers needing some top-line skill Armia could be worth the risk if he is available at 15.  I am torn because of the need for goal scoring and skill, both of which Armia presents in abundance, but the effort issues not only scare me on the ice, but for relations with coach John Tortorella who has zero patience for players who don’t play hard and on both sides of the puck.  It is possible as Luedeke says that it is just about maturity and he becomes the homerun talent he can be in the long run, but hopefully someone before the Rangers takes the gamble and takes that chance out of Sather’s hands.

Free Agent Preview: Brooks Laich An Answer For Rangers?

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
There is a little over a month left until the frenzy that is free agency begins and the Rangers will certainly be looking for offense when the market opens on July 1.  In looking ahead to the free agent market there have already been looks at Brad Richards for the first line center role and James Wisniewski as a puck-moving defender than could also aid the power play.  Beyond Richards there is little out there in the forward rankings on the unrestricted market, but one possible option is Brooks Laich.
Laich has had a solid career in Washington having topped the 20 goal mark three times and the 50 point plateau in two different seasons. Beyond just the pure numbers Laich has been known for his presence in and out of the locker room on a Washington team that at times seems to lack any sense of leadership. 
Laich has the versatility to play either center or the wing with a measure of defensive awareness and willingness to go to the front of the net and do what it takes to score goals.  That style meshes with the Rangers system and he would likely fit very well with coach John Tortorella in how he carries himself both on and off the ice.  The issue for me with Laich is not how he plays or if he would add to the Rangers skill level, but whether given the depressed talent available he is going to be overpaid for what he actually is.
There is no way to rationalize Laich as a replacement if the Rangers miss out on Richards this summer and paying him upwards of $4 million a season would be a mistake that the Rangers would regret in the long term.  The Rangers need more skill in their lineup and Laich does not bring enough of that to the table alone to be an answer for the Rangers.  Maybe if it is a scenario where the Rangers have Richards in place and are looking to move pieces around Laich would be a viable player at the right price.  The problem is that the market will allow him to get more than he deserves and for what he is likely to get paid in terms of money and years, the Rangers should pass.