BUFFALO – The hype has been building since slick Finnish winger Joel Armia was selected 16th overall in 2011. In the 20-year-old, the Sabres possess a prospect so talented many believe he could crack the NHL right away.
Yet few have seen Armia, who spent the last three seasons playing at home in SM-liiga, up close.
Who exactly is this guy?
Fans will find out tonight, when Armia makes his Buffalo debut in the Sabres’ preseason home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes inside the First Niagara Center.
Sabres coach Ron Rolston will be skating Armia on the right wing with center Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek, an opportunity for the prospect to impress.
“Of course, to play here first time in First Niagara Center, I’m pretty excited,” Armia said this morning after skating.
Armia, who played Tuesday in Columbus, wants to learn from Hodgson, the Sabres’ top center.
“I think it will help a lot to play with him,” Armia said. “I think it will be a good experience for me to see what he’s doing on the ice.”
Since Vanek and Hodgson enjoyed strong chemistry with Jason Pominville before the Sabres traded him last year, Vanek thinks it makes sense to put another talented right-handed shot beside them.
“It seems like he’s smart. He knows what he’s doing,” Vanek said about Armia. “I think Cody and I need to help him out, keep talking to him between shifts, on the ice. You can see his talent, obviously.”
Sabres fans coming down to watch tonight’s game will see a good mix of talented veterans and strong prospects. Rolston said goalie Ryan Miller will play the entire game tonight. Matt Hackett will back him up.
Here’s the rest of tonight’s lineup:
Forward lines (left to right): Brian Flynn, Mikhail Grigorenko, Tyler Ennis; Corey Tropp, Johan Larsson, Ville Leino; Colton Gillies, Kevin Porter, Luke Adam.
Defense: Rasmus Ristolainen and Tyler Myers; Mark Pysyk and Henrik Tallinder; Brayden McNabb and Nikita Zadorov.
At 6-foot-1, Pysyk is the smallest defender in the lineup.