It’s almost impossible to believe.
Surely, Alexandre Texier was nervous as he stepped on the ice for the first time for the Blue Jackets.
It was the NHL, his childhood dream come true, and the debut was taking place in Madison Square Garden of all places, the most famous arena in the world, in the city that never sleeps, and his parents had flown there from France after all, oh and a playoff berth was on the line as well for his new team.
He had to be nervous. Just had to be.
“He is not nervous,” John Tortorella said.
OK, maybe the coach will say that, but there had to at least be some nerves flowing through the 19-year-old in his first game.
And it turns out there was. Just not during the game — only for the pregame warmups when captain Nick Foligno told Texier to take a spin alone, the traditional rookie lap that greets a player before his first game.
“I didn’t want to miss the net or do something wrong, but it was good,” he said.
But once the game started, he was fine. Even beforehand, he slept well in Manhattan on Friday night, big moment be damned.
“I was not nervous,” he reiterated the day after the debut. “It was just fun. I just want to help the team.”
So that’s one reason why the Blue Jackets have turned to the 2017 second-round draft pick in the final days of the regular season, and why they will not hesitate to put him on the ice as Columbus opens the Stanley Cup Playoffs against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
But what about their nerves? After all, a lot is at stake here, and throwing a kid into the lineup after a grand total of seven American Hockey League games shows a certain amount of chutzpah.
Except Tortorella and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen don’t think that way. As the New York Rangers coach, Tortorella didn’t hesitate to play rookie Chris Kreider in the playoffs in 2012 when he hadn’t yet played in a regular-season game, and the CBJ braintrust didn’t have any worries tossing defenseman Gabriel Carlsson into the postseason lineup in 2017 when he’d played just two regular-season games after coming over from Sweden.
It’s all about what the player himself is ready for.
“I think I’ve been put in a box that I always wanted veteran guys, which is totally wrong,” Torotrella said. “If a kid can play, if he’s going to be better than the guy that he can be in our 20 for the game, no matter what age he is, if we think he can handle it, he’s going to play.”
In Texier’s case, it appears he’s ready for the opportunity. He nearly scored in his first period of action in MSG, then did open his goal-scoring account a night later in Ottawa as he roofed a pass from Oliver Bjorkstrand on an odd-man rush to make it goal No. 1 in two games.
“He played with a type of arrogance that for the age of the kid is pretty impressive,” Tortorella said. “You can see he has intelligence of the game, he is physical when he needs to be, he is engaged on pucks, so he’s impressive. He’ll play (in the postseason).”
Texier has been as impressive away from the puck as with it. While his highlights in Cleveland and earlier this year with KalPa of the Finnish Liiga focused on just how lethal his shot can be, he also brings good instincts, the ability to get lost in the offensive zone and the confidence to make plays. He’s also hard on loose pucks and in 50-50 battles.
Away from the puck, he’s battled to get himself in position and hasn’t been a liability in the defensive zone. Thus far, the coaching staff is trying to make it easy on him by just letting him play outside of the need-to-know information about structure and specific plays.
Along the way, Texier has impressed his new teammates, including someone else who played postseason hockey a year ago for the Jackets at age 19, Pierre-Luc Dubois.
“He’s a good player,” Dubois said. “He’s really smart, skilled. He’s one of those players that you can see plays with his instincts and doesn’t think too much. He just goes out there and has fun.”
While Texier professes he hasn’t been nervous yet in his limited time in the NHL, he admits that he is a bit surprised by how quickly the success has come. A few weeks ago, it seemed he’d just come to North America to get his feet wet, and now he’s nearing his first Stanley Cup Playoffs game.
“To be honest, never,” he said when asked if he expected to be where he is right now. “Step by step. I went to the AHL, I played well, so I had my chance here, I played well here and scored my goal. I just want to enjoy the time here.”