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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

European roundup: Armia making noise

For obvious reasons, it's harder to keep the finger on the pulse of what is going on in Europe early in the season, but Finnish forward Joel Armia's offensive excellence in the SM-Liiga has emerged as one of the important storylines from across the Atlantic.

I chatted with one NHL scout based in Europe about Armia last month, and he was pretty high on the kid. "Very nice size, even better hands," he said on the condition that I wouldn't disclose his affiliation. "I like him pretty much, although I say his skating needs to get a little better. He showed some good things last year, and I think that if he can make himself more of a consistent player on every shift, he will have a great year and go high in the draft. He knows how to score, it's just the little things he needs improving on. "

So far, Armia is living up to the promise. You can see his release and nose for the net on display here at the Ivan Hlinka in August and for Ässät Pori in Finland's highest pro league (h/t to NHL Draft video). In 12 big league games, the 17-year-old who is 6-3, 187 pounds, has six goals and 10 points. Some rookies his age in that league are lucky to get five points over an entire season, so his statistical body of work is impressive.

That said, he obviously needs to get stronger and keep working on his initial burst and acceleration. If he can do that, then he should have no trouble making a run at an NHL job someday and could be looking at a top-10 selection come June. He's not quite there on a lot of lists, but nothing gets scouts more impressed than kids who prove they can skate with the big men and then put up the kind of offense beyond their years like Armia has. He's cooled off of late, but if he can rack up 20 or more points over the course of the year, you'll be hearing a lot more about him in the coming months.

Swedish defender Adam Larsson is still playing with the big boys in the elite league there for Skelleftea, but his production is down after an eye-popping (within the context of being a 17-year-old rookie DEFENSEman in his country's highest pro league) '09-10 campaign in which he scored four goals and 17 points in 49 games, while standing out as the best blue liner on Team Sweden's World Jr. Championship entry last winter. This season, Larsson has managed just a pair of helpers in the first 13 games. Could be a matter of teams keying on him, could be a matter of things just not breaking right for him like they did last year. But the one thing I'm hearing is that the skill is still there and he plays an extremely poised game for one who's still several weeks away from his 18th birthday.

So, in other words, if you're thinking Larsson is going to drop far in the 2011 draft, think again.

Victor Rask is off to a slow start this season after a lot of hype coming into it. He's scoreless in eight games with Leksands and has been called "sluggish" by a few of the scouts who have seen him. That said, this guy just has a knack for getting it together in the spring months, when the scouts are in proliferation at the various international tourneys and some of the last impressions make for the best ones. He's a very good puckhandler and creative playmaker who is able to give defenders fits for his ability to exploit weak d-zone coverage and work the puck down near the net.

The Swede who's making some real moves upwards in draft discussions right now in draft talks is Joachim Nermark, who tore it up at the Ivan Hlinka and has ridden that wave into the first couple of months of the '10-11 season, earning a promotion to Linköping's SEL team. He's a very smart, heady player with excellent hands and instincts for putting the puck in the net and setting up his teammates. He had an outrageous 5 goals and 12 points in 5 games for the Tre Kronor at the Hlinka, demonstrating that when the games matter, he's a handful to keep under wraps.

Looking for a name out of Eastern Europe, then check out Czech winger Dmitrij Jaskin, who has played well for Slavia Praha of the Extraliga in early season action. Red Line Report featured him in their October issue, and they like his size, shot and willingness to go hard to the net. Radim Jelinek is their regional scout there, and he's proven over the years to have a pretty good eye for talent. If Radim is onto something (and he has Jaskin ahead of Marek Tvrdon, who is playing well for the Vancouver Giants, btw), then watch for Jaskin to gain some notoriety and move up the boards in the process. Radim is a character who once shouted that "David Krejci has a beautiful mind!!!!" in my ear at a Vancouver bar, but the guy knows his hockey (he also was the one who taught me the correct pronunciation of Milan Lucic's name when I was talking to him about how the Bruins had just drafted Muh-lonn Loo-chick. Embarrassing, really.)

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