Armstrong a welcome addition to Leafs

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:00 PM ET

Colby Armstrong didn’t need a Maple Leaf on his sweater to get fired up about playing hockey in Toronto. Of course, a few seasons dispatched to the hockey wasteland of Atlanta might do that to a guy.

Armstrong comes by his energy honestly, however, and now that he’s part of the home team, the 27-year-old Saskatchewan native is itching for more Air Canada Centre vibe.

The boisterous, banging forward was general manager Brian Burke’s lone significant roster addition during Thursday’s opening day of NHL free agency. That said, he’s a player who should have a positive impact throughout his three-year term with the new team.

In the former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins and most recently a Thrasher, the Leafs get themselves a winger who has made a living and reputation hitting anything that moves - and even some that do not.

Though he’s never played for a Canadian team, it didn’t take long for Armstrong’s family and friends among Leafs Nation to clog up his cell phone with texts and messages.

“Every time we came in there to play, it was like a playoff game,” Armstrong said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. “The feeling of the crowd, the atmosphere. Earlier when I was with Pittsburgh we came in with Crosby and Malkin and Stall and all the hotshots and the city was buzzing.”

The guess is it won’t take long for some buzz to build around Armstrong, should he continue play with the zeal he did in his two previous NHL stops. After watching indifferent efforts on too many nights for much of the past two seasons, his act will be a welcome one.

It was in Pittsburgh that Armstrong had his most NHL success as he became best known after developing a fast friendship with Pens captain Sidney Crosby.

He was shipped out of town before the Kid and Co. won the Cup, however, getting dealt to the Thrashers in a deal that saw Marion Hossa and Pascal Dupuis go to Pittsburgh.

For what it’s worth, Armstrong says he sees some parallels in Toronto and Pittsburgh. (Relax, he was talking more about youthful enthusiasm on the roster rather than talent.)

“There a lot of young faces here, I went through the same thing in Pittsburgh, but it happens a lot faster than you think,” Armstrong said. “The guys come together ... it fits the same mould of a bunch of young guys.

“I’m looking forward to it and growing and building this group.”

While Armstrong won’t necessarily add a boost to the struggling Leafs offence, he will certainly add some vigour up front. Burke said the newcomer is projected as a third-line right winger with the possibility of moving up as situations arise.

At $3 million per year over the next three seasons, Armstrong didn’t come cheap but is surely fair market value for a player built the Burke way.

“This is a hard-nosed winger who has scored over 20 goals in our league,” Burke said. “He plays in a lot of different situations and brings energy.”

The Leafs dressing room will be a homecoming of sorts for Armstrong, who scored 15 goals and 14 assists in 79 games last season with the Thrashers. Not only does his family live in Saskatoon, just around the corner from the Schenn clan that produced Leafs defenceman Luke, but Armstrong was a teammate in junior with Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf for parts of two seasons.

As captain, Phaneuf extended the welcome wagon via a phone call with his new teammate.

“He’s positive and likes the way the team is going, the direction it is headed,” Armstrong said of the captain’s call. “He hasn’t changed as a person (since their days in Red Deer) either.

“We’re both excited to be playing together again and are hoping we can build this team to where we want it to be.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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