There aren’t a ton of commuters who go to work in Kuopio, Finland, and then in Rockford, Ill., two days later, but Alexandre Texier has entered a stretch where his normal isn’t a normal normal.
About 48 hours after playing his last game in Europe, the Blue Jackets’ second-round pick in the 2017 draft made his North American debut on Saturday night as the CBJ’s top farm team, the Cleveland Monsters, played a road game at Rockford.
It wasn’t the result the Monsters wanted – they lost 3-2 in overtime – or likely the debut Texier had dreamed of. He had zero points, two shots on goal, and was on the ice when the Ice Hogs scored the game-winning goal in the extra frame.
But down the road, that likely won’t mean as much. The game in the long run was another step for the high-scoring French forward, who at 19 has come to North America to continue his development with hopes of joining the Blue Jackets down the road.
Based on his play in Finland this year, that might happen sooner rather than later. Texier led his KalPa Kuopio team in scoring with 41 points in 55 games, with 14 goals and 27 assists. That was a big jump forward from his 13-9-22 line a year ago when he made his debut in the Liiga after growing up playing his hockey in his home country, not exactly a hotbed of the sport.
When asked how Texier has developed the past two seasons, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen did not hesitate.
“I think beyond expectations,” he said. “We felt like we gave up a pretty good prospect in Keegan Kolesar to acquire the 45th pick (in that 2017 draft, which was used on Texier). He had a good year in the Finnish league as an 18-year-old, but then this year, it accelerated. His development skyrocketed, in my opinion.
“He had a little bit of a slow start because he had shoulder surgery in the offseason and he missed the first five games of the year. He struggled a little bit at the start, then after that, he’s been a point per game player in the Finnish league, which is hard to do. He’s a pleasure to watch, and he’s up for the next challenge here.”
The Blue Jackets don’t have any set expectations in the near term for Texier, who will finish the season with the Monsters. The hope is simply that he’ll continue to work on his game and start the adjustment to playing in North America, where the rinks are smaller and the style of play a bit different than it is overseas.
“One step at a time,” Kekalainen said. “He’s a very young man, 19 years old. Just take it one step at a time, one day at a time. We’ll see where it goes, but he’s a top prospect for us. We’re going to be monitoring everything he does very closely, as we have all year. (European development coach) Jarko Ruutu has done an excellent job with him, and now he’s in the hands of John Madden and his staff, plus (development coaches) Chris Clark and Gregory Campbell. He’s in good hands on this side of the pond, too, so we’ll see how he adjusts.”
Kekalainen said at the trade deadline that teams had inquired about three prospects – Texier and fellow forwards Emil Bemström and Liam Foudy – often when it came to working with the Blue Jackets on trades. None of the three were available, though, as the Blue Jackets’ GM viewed them as core pieces to the future of the franchise.
When it comes to Texier, his skill set makes him someone the Jackets feel can be an impact player at the NHL level.
“He brings a lot,” Kekalainen said. “He’s a good playmaker, he’s a good passer, he’s got a great wrist shot, he’s a good skater, he sets the pace for the game, he has great speed. There’s a lot of good things about him. I think he needs to get stronger to adjust to the North American style of hockey, but that’s the case with young players usually coming from overseas, especially coming over from Europe, to get used to the battle level here.
“He’ll get a taste of it, but he’s got a lot of skill, a lot of hockey sense, a lot of instincts for the game of hockey, so that’s a great start.”