Alexandre Texier isn’t focused on becoming the face of hockey in France.
The Columbus Blue Jackets forward prospect is working on becoming an NHL player first.
Texier (6-foot, 187 pounds) was selected by the Blue Jackets in the second round (No. 45) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He is the first France-born player drafted from a team in Ligue Magnus, France’s top professional league, which was founded in 1906.
“For the young kids in France it’s very good,” Texier said. “But that’s hard to say. I’m not in the NHL yet. It’s a big step.”
He’s taking another step now, playing for France at the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark. Texier, 18, has three shots on goal and is averaging 13:49 of ice time in three games. He’s the third-youngest player in the tournament, about a month older than United States defenseman Quintin Hughes and Slovakia forward Martin Fehervary. Both are prospects for the 2018 NHL Draft.
That followed a season that saw him leave Grenoble in France to play for KalPa in Liiga, Finland’s top league. In 53 games he had 22 points (13 goals, nine assists), seventh among under-20 players in the league.
“It’s a crazy year,” Texier said. “I was at the draft, playing in the French league. It’s not a very good league, but now this year I play in Finland. It’s very good for me. I play a lot. For my development it’s very good. I really liked to play in Finland. Next year I have to play better. Every time. I have to work hard on my training and development and I have to work on everything, my skating, my shot.”
Texier had 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 40 games with Grenoble in 2016-17, and 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 12 playoff games.
In addition to drawing the attention of NHL scouts last season, he caught the eye of an NHL player from France, Vegas Golden Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. They were teammates in pre-tournament games before the 2017 IIHF World Championship.
Bellemare, who has played 309 NHL games in four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Golden Knights, offered Texier some advice on how to handle the attention he’s received as a highly touted prospect from a non-traditional hockey country.
But Bellemare saw Texier had a solid plan in place.
“I didn’t have to tell him anything,” Bellemare said. “It felt like his mindset was already hard-working and it didn’t matter what happened or what team was going to draft him or how high he was going to go. He was just set to work hard.
“It’s cool to see that hockey in France is evolving so much that a kid got drafted out of France, which has never happened before, that scouts went to see the French league, which has never happened before. And that for the future, when the older guys stop, we have a guy that values hard work and everything like we do.”
Playing against older, high-level competition at his age is solidifying Texier’s status as one of France’s best hockey prospects.
“Among skill players he’s right there. He’s right at the top,” France coach Dave Henderson said. “I’ve been here 40 years and have seen a lot of the skill players come through. He’s right at the top, top-five. He’s got everything. He’s got the shot, he sees the play well. He’s only 18 now. Give him a little time.”
Playing at Worlds is giving Texier the confidence that he can reach the NHL in time.
“I have to work hard every day,” he said. “I have to work hard on the ice and off the ice if I want to have a chance to play in the NHL. I have to get better every night.”
He’s done that so far, and Bellemare said he can see Texier finding a place in the League.
“Hockey’s changing and it is at such a fast pace now,” Bellemare said. “[Texier] has got this easy glide that is giving him an extra half-second to make a play all the time, he’s got great vision and he’s a complete player with a little bit of good teaching, which he got, I think, by going to Finland. It’s going to be a tougher game here [the NHL] than what he is used (to).
“I’m not worried. He’s a young guy and he’s going to have to build a little bit, but I think Columbus is the right organization for him. If he is not here fast, he will be here a little bit later. I have no doubt in my mind that this kid is going the next French big thing.”