Joel Armia has improved his point-per-game average in each of his five NHL seasons and enters 2020-21 with a lot on the line. However, with Montreal’s recent additions, will he still have the same offensive opportunities he had before?
While Armia was drafted as an offensively-gifted power forward, his opportunities to play in that role had been somewhat limited but that changed last season. While Brendan Gallagher was a fixture on the top line, it was Armia much more often than not that was on the second line and he averaged a career high in playing time as a result.
Statistically speaking, his trend of slow improvement continued as he surpassed the 0.5 points per game mark for the first time. However, some of his other trends continued as well, particularly his inconsistent offensive ability. There were nights where he looked like Montreal’s top offensive player but others where his performance in the offensive end was more reminiscent of a player coming up from Laval.
Of course, Armia is a much more important player than just being an inconsistent scorer. He played a big role on the penalty kill and was one of Montreal’s few physical forwards. Those elements didn’t waver game to game which gave Claude Julien a strong comfort level to play through his cold spurts offensively.
Come playoff time, Armia was mostly quiet which mirrored the way he finished the season when he had just two goals in his final 16 regular season games. But late in the series against Philadelphia, he all of a sudden became the one that could dominate the attacking end. All in all, he had a decent season but as has been the case since being a first-round pick, there remains that thought of ‘if only he could put it all together’.
Season Stats: 58 GP, 16 goals, 14 assists, 30 points, +2 rating, 28 PIMS, 3 PPG, 2 GWG, 155 shots, 17:14 ATOI, 51.4 CF%
Playoff Stats: 10 GP, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points, +5 rating, 10 PIMS, 0 PPG, 0 GWG, 27 shots, 15:56 ATOI, 55.0 CF%
5 Year Averages
(2019-20’s stats were extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
There are some players whose roles are well-defined heading into the season. Armia is not one of those. In terms of his spot on the depth chart, the additions of Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson push him to fourth among right wingers. But that’s not an ideal role for Armia to play given his importance to the team and it’s that point that has many thinking that Toffoli will ultimately shift to his off-wing.
That leaves the second or third line for Armia and there’s a case to be made for either one. He is comfortable playing with Jesperi Kotkaniemi which would make the third line make sense but if they want to balance out their lines as much as possible, playing Anderson on the third and moving Armia up as the defensive anchor on Nick Suzuki’s trio is certainly a viable option as well.
When it comes to special teams, where he fits makes more sense. The newcomers will really cut into Armia’s power play time. He was the lone right-shot winger with size so it only made sense that he saw regular time on the man advantage in the past but that isn’t the case now and Toffoli and Anderson have had some success on the power play before. Instead of logging two minutes a night in that situation like he did last season, Armia may wind up on the third wave or post-power play unit more often than not.
Things won’t change much on the penalty kill though. He’s a lock to be on one of the top two duos and with the frequency that the penalty killers like to change when they get a chance, there isn’t much of a difference in playing time between one and the other.
While Armia’s point per game average has gone up each year, it’s difficult to see that happening this season. I don’t see him being on the fourth line but even with him being in that middle-six role, the prime offensive opportunities that he had a year ago aren’t going to be there as often. I expect Julien to try to use him in more of a defensive-first role, possibly with Artturi Lehkonen. That means he’ll be an important part of the Habs this season but it’s likely to come at the cost of a dip in points.
That isn’t to say he’s entirely useless from a fantasy hockey perspective. He has seen his hit totals skyrocket since joining Montreal, thanks in large part to the home statistician’s generous interpretation of what constitutes a hit. I don’t think it’s fair to expect him to be at 2.5 per game again with a likely dip in ice time but he should be good for a bit over two per night. That makes him an intriguing late-week pickup in head-to-head formats for a team needing a boost in that category. In deep leagues that count hits and shorthanded points, he’s probably still worthy of a late-round pickup. That’s not the most exciting of fantasy profiles but Armia can still help some teams.