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Joel Armia’s playoff performance wasn’t just an outlier

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The Finnish winger had a dominant playoff run, but he isn’t just a flash in the pan.

Winnipeg Jets v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Joel Armia isn’t going to set the world on fire with his offensive game, even if his skill set is more than that of a prototypical bottom-six winger in the NHL. While he’s had solid years playing primarily defensive minutes, Armia had his breakthrough this past season, really coming into his own in the Winnipeg Jets’ run to the Western Conference Final.

Out of all Jets forwards in the playoffs who played at least 100 five-on-five minutes, Armia led them all in Corsi-for percentage (CF%) with a stunning mark of 60.7 in 13 playoff games. Not only did he manage to get the puck moving in the right direction, he was part of a group that dominated in scoring chances as well.

Armia led the Jets in almost every conceivable possession and chance category in the playoffs. It didn’t result in many goals, but that can be easily explained by an on-ice shooting percentage of 2.47.

Winnipeg Jets 2018 playoff metrics

Player Position GP TOI CF% SF% GF% SCF% HDCF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO OZF%
Player Position GP TOI CF% SF% GF% SCF% HDCF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO OZF%
Joel Armia RW 13 122.2 60.7 63.3 40.0 66.3 72.9 2.47 93.6 0.961 47.4
Mathieu Perreault C 9 101.0 58.2 56.7 66.7 49.4 59.4 3.64 97.6 1.013 66.7
Nikolaj Ehlers LW 15 208.2 56.5 57.7 60.0 53.3 61.2 7.26 93.4 1.007 66.4
Josh Morrissey D 16 279.3 54.9 55.8 45.0 56.3 64.6 5.52 91.5 0.970 59.4
Tyler Myers D 16 253.0 54.6 53.3 60.9 51.6 53.6 9.66 92.9 1.026 55.6
Blake Wheeler RW 17 258.3 54.1 53.8 50.0 55.3 64.2 7.35 91.5 0.988 62.9
Mark Scheifele C 17 277.0 54.1 53.6 60.0 54.5 64.0 7.95 93.9 1.018 61.8
Jacob Trouba D 17 316.2 53.6 53.2 55.0 56.3 64.2 6.21 94.2 1.004 59.3
Andrew Copp C 16 166.6 53.4 51.7 40.0 54.3 49.2 6.59 89.4 0.960 42.0
Patrik Laine RW 17 239.2 53.2 53.8 61.9 48.5 48.9 9.70 93.0 1.027 62.3
Adam Lowry C 17 191.2 53.1 53.4 30.8 55.7 52.5 3.67 90.5 0.942 35.7
Dustin Byfuglien D 17 355.1 52.7 52.7 50.0 49.0 47.9 5.91 93.4 0.993 57.9
Ben Chiarot D 16 224.1 52.5 52.4 54.6 46.0 46.7 9.92 90.9 1.008 54.6
Paul Stastny C 17 229.4 52.0 52.0 63.2 48.1 52.6 10.08 93.6 1.037 61.8
Kyle Connor LW 17 270.5 51.7 49.8 52.4 51.5 57.1 8.21 92.6 1.008 60.7
Bryan Little C 17 207.6 51.3 56.2 66.7 47.3 47.1 6.50 95.8 1.023 58.3
Brandon Tanev LW 17 196.5 50.8 52.2 30.8 50.3 47.3 3.67 91.0 0.947 41.9
Toby Enstrom D 11 179.1 45.6 47.6 37.5 45.0 43.6 3.85 94.2 0.980 55.1
Natural Stat Trick

That’s a commanding performance, regardless of the quality of the team Armia was playing on.

To further explore just how dominant Armia was possession-wise, we can expand the numbers to include all NHL players with 100+ minutes at five-on-five in the playoffs. Two — that’s right, just two — players in last year’s post-season posted a better overall CF% than Armia. They were former Habs draft pick Mikhail Sergachev (64.6%), and star centre Patrice Bergeron (62.2%). Not exactly bad company to be in if you’re Armia.

The former Jet’s ability to play a possession-oriented game in a defensive role wasn’t just limited to the playoffs this past year. In fact he was among the best possession forwards on the Jets during the regular season as well. On a team containing stars like Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers, that’s an impressive feat, even more so when he followed that up in the playoffs with similar numbers.

The fact that Armia was starting just 41% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and creating such strong numbers, is something to be optimistic about. With Tomas Plekanec returning to the fold, pairing him with Armia and someone like Paul Byron or Charles Hudon on the other wing could create a solid defensive line, with some scoring ability added to it.

We know that Hudon suffered a brutally unlucky stretch to start the year, despite dominating the numbers game alongside Plekanec. Adding another possession winger in Armia could help spur that line to success.

Having a dedicated line to handle those defensive minutes can free up easier matchups for the more offensively inclined lines with Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, and Max Pacioretty, which should, in theory, lead to better offensive production from the offensive players across the board.

The Habs also shouldn’t worry too much at who they place Armia on a line with. On the Jets, not many players suffered any sort of major lapse in play with him on the ice.

HockeyViz.com

While not always the most exciting player, Armia is able to keep pucks away from his net and push the play in the right direction, regardless of who his teammates were at the time. This allows the Montreal Canadiens plenty of flexibility in their lineup choices, and he will be an important player late in games if Claude Julien is looking to preserve a lead, or needs a penalty killed.

He’s not meant to be some franchise-altering piece, but Armia is a shrewd add by Marc Bergevin, especially when you consider the low price paid to acquire his rights. He adds a heavy forechecking game, outstanding possession metrics, and the ability to play up and down the lineup as needed. He’ll be an extremely useful tool for Claude Julien next year and beyond, depending on the length of his upcoming contract.

He might have broken out in the playoffs this past year, but Joel Armia has been quietly good for a while now, and Habs fans should be looking forward to him suiting up in the fall.