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Sabres take Finn fluent in scoring; Armia notched 18 goals in top league

English is definitely the second language for Joel Armia, but the Finnish right winger had no problem saying what he likes to do.

"Score goals," Armia said Friday night after the Buffalo Sabres made him their first-round selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft.

Armia, a 6-foot-3, 191-pounder who just turned 18 last month, became the first European selected by the Sabres since they picked defenseman Dennis Persson and goaltender Jhonas Enroth in 2006. Based on Armia's ranking, the Sabres had little choice.

NHL Central Scouting selected Armia as the fourth-ranked European skater in its final poll. He was second in the midterm rankings, a high number for a Buffalo team that picked 16th overall.

"He's a player that our scouting staff, Kevin Devine and his group, really coveted, and given the range we were in was the guy that they wanted," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said. "When they've had the opportunity and the ability to pick the player that they want, it's worked out really well for us. I just hope this will be a continuation of it."

Armia received glowing reviews outside of Buffalo as well.

"He's big and tall but surprisingly mobile for a player of his size," said Goran Stubb, the NHL's director of European scouting. "He has a heavy wrist shot that he gets off quickly and is always looking for the empty spots on the ice. He's a sniper with a good selection of shots. You might have to look for him during some shifts, but then, suddenly, he scores the winner."

Folks in Buffalo who paid attention to the world junior championships might remember Armia. He played for Finland, recording one assist as the second-youngest player on the team.

"It was nice," Armia said. "I liked the place. I think I played good."

Armia plays in Finland's top professional league. He had 18 goals and 29 points in 48 games with Assat, a quality rookie season that went better than he expected.

"Playing with men, they know what they are doing. That helps a lot," Armia said.

"The thing I like about Joel is he's very humble," Assat coach Pekka Rautakallio said. "He wants to know what I expect and he's willing and ready to execute it. That tells me he really wants to learn how to play, how to be a better hockey player."

Armia has been compared to Finnish legend Teemu Selanne, though he's not as quick as the fellow sniper.

Armia said he needs to improve his skating and get stronger.

"I expect he's going to go back at least one more year and then we'll see from there," Regier said.

Armia said he had a feeling the Sabres might pick him after having a couple of chats with the team.

"They were nice people," he said.

Armia excelled during a tournament featuring players his own age. At the 2011 under-18 world championships, he led Finland and tied for third overall with 13 points, scoring four goals in six games.

It makes sense since, as he said, scoring is what he does best.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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