Every year leading up to the NHL draft, sometimes there are indicators of which way a team will be leaning as we approach the first round. While fans and writers can analyze the "needs" of the system all they want, the truth is the GM and the scouting director have a long term plan in mind and they're going to do their best to stick to it. At the same time, they'll focus on players that are the "best available", overlooking absolute and apparently pressing needs in preference of players that are absolutely impossible to pass up.
This happened last year with the Dallas Stars and Jack Campbell.
As we approached the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, all focus was on the group of extremely talented defensemen that the Stars obviously so desperately needed. Just days before, however, indications were pointing to a selection that would come completely out of left field -- the picking of the top goaltender in the draft. Campbell indicated the day before the draft that the Stars had paid him the most attention out of any other team, even mentioning that some "doctor" had done an extensive psychological study for the Stars.
It was surprising, to say the least, and while every fan was drooling over Cam Fowler the Stars selected what they believed to be a future cornerstone of the franchise. Alex Guptill mentioned last year that he too received similar attention from the Stars' psychologist, before he was drafted in the 3rd round.
It's not a direct link to the picks the Stars make. Scott Glennie mentioned he had no clue the Stars were going to pick him in 2009 -- along with, well, everyone else. This year, however, we're seeing very similar signs about one of the top European forwards heading into the draft: Joel Armia.
Is this a sure sign of which way the Dallas Stars are leaning and if so, is Armia even the forward that Les Jackson and Joe Nieuwendyk should be targeting?
If you care to read an interestingly translated article (tracked down by some very astute DBD readers) you'll find out that the Dallas Stars psychologist spent three hours talking to Joel Armia in Toronto, much more than any other team he talked to.
Just like in previous years -- more on this later in the week -- the Stars might be tipping their hat a bit. Of course, they could just be doing their due diligence and checking out one of the more 'controversial' prospects in the draft but there's a good chance that if he's there at #14, Armia could be snatched up in a heartbeat by Nieuwendyk and Jackson.
What if the Stars are faced with a very difficult decision, however, and have a couple of highly ranked defensemen or forwards fall to them midway through the first round? There's certainly a good chance that the Stars will have to decide between and Armia and any of Mark McNeill, Jamieson Oleksiak, Sven Baertschi or even Mika Zibenajad. Each player has tremendous strengths and would be an instant injection of talent into the Dallas Stars' system, yet each player also has their drawbacks.
For Armia, there is one very serious drawback that is likely preventing him from a top-5 pick.
Joel Armia is a magician with the puck. In my mind, he has the best hands in the draft and one of the best shots I've seen in a long time. He can score from anywhere across the blue line and has the size and the nose for the crease to score near the net as well. He's a pure goal-scorer, plain and simple, and whenever the puck is on his stick amazing things are going to happen. He plays in the tough areas of the offensive zone and is quite literally a "human highlight reel". All he does is score goals.
He's also a very big, right-handed right wing who uses his size incredibly well -- even if he still has some meat to put on those bones. His potential is through the roof, however, and there are some scouts who are projecting him as a top-six power forward with great offensive skill.
Unfortunately, he's developed a reputation as a player who is downright useless when his team is on defense. He has yet to show any interest when his team is in its own end and this complete lack of defensive awareness or ability is what is holding him back from being one the absolute top picks in the draft. Scouts have praised him all season long for his puck-handling, skating and incredible shot but when it comes to defensive responsibility everyone agrees this is a severe negative on his current scouting report.
He's just barely 18-years old, however, and played 48 games in Finland's top hockey league -- arguably the third best in the world behind the NHL and the SEL. Armia scored 18 goals against some of the toughest defenses in hockey and some of the best all-around players in the world and there's no doubt if he had elected to play in the juniors instead of Finland his numbers could be astronomical.
At the 2011 Under-18 World Junior Championships, Armia put up 13 points (4G, 9A) in just 6 games.
Recent reports suggest that Armia acknowledges his shortcomings and is focused on improving. He's built a reputation as a hard worker and a motivated young hockey player, great signs for a player that has some of the best offensive potential of anyone in the draft.
What about that scenario where the Stars would be faced with yet another difficult decision, a la 2010?
Last year, after the Stars selected Jack Campbell, the Stars were adamant that only Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin were higher on their draft board than Campbell. This was the player they wanted, the player Nieuwendyk and Jackson were convinced was not only a top-3 pick talent in the draft but also a goaltender to build a franchise around.
Joel Armia has that potential as well. For all of his defensive shortcomings, his ability to score and create plays is like no other player in the Stars organization. This includes Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, Scott Glennie or any other forward in the system. With the departure of Brad Richards (and even if he did stay), the ability to infuse this system with a player Armia's talents does not come around very often.
Perhaps the Stars can take advantage of the uncertainty of Armia's place in this draft, stealing a player at #14 that undoubtedly has top three talent and potential.
It's possible that in a system like the Stars', with a coach like Glen Gulutzan running the NHL team, a player like Armia could become sufficiently responsible on defense to not expose himself too much at a higher level. His talent is one-of-a-kind, however, and should not be overlooked.
Is Joel Armia a player Stars fans would love to see in a Dallas jersey come Friday night?