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Texier's future is now as youngster moves to center

20-year-old rookie from France adjusts to playing in the middle

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

For Alexandre Texier and the Blue Jackets, the future is now. 

As he looks at a variety of factors, head coach John Tortorella has come to a decision when it comes to the talented 20-year-old forward.  

Texier is ready to be a center, both now and as he develops at the NHL level. 

"The thing I like about Tex is I think he understands how to play low in that position," Tortorella said. "A lot more comes into play as a centerman when you don't have the puck in your end zone, a lot more reads like a defenseman, and I think he has the intelligence to do that. 

"I think we need to start developing him right away as a center because I think that's what he's going to be." 

One of just 12 NHL players in league history to be born in France, Texier was drafted as a center but first arrived in Columbus a year ago -- with a team on the cusp of the playoffs -- as a winger. He filled that role in both the final two games of the regular season, including the season finale in which he scored his first NHL goal, and also in the eight playoff games in which he played. In that span, he scored twice, both in the Game 4 win over Tampa Bay that clinched the series sweep over the Lightning. 

He occupied the same spot when this season began, but with the team dealing with injuries and inconsistency down the middle, Tortorella decided it was time to make the move to have Texier back in the middle. It's a spot the youngster feels comfortable in, and he has looked more noticeable in recent games after moving to the spot in a Dec. 3 game vs. Arizona in which he also scored a goal.  

Video: ARI@CBJ: Texier converts Atkinson's great feed

"It could be better -- it could always be better -- but I feel good," he said. "I think you have to (skate more). I think you have to play good defensively. You have to backcheck all the way down. You have to be mobile around the ice, you're skating more, you get more pucks and can make more plays. I like it, yeah." 

But while high-level centers are the among the most prized commodities in the sport, Texier demurred when asked if the middle is where he sees himself long term.  

"It doesn't matter," he said. "I just want to play. I just want to be better. A good player can play center and wing, too, so I feel good. I'm starting to play my game, keep working and be better every game. 

"Right now, I try to do it day-by-day and try to be better every day at center. We'll see what happens in the future." 

If he had one wish at the moment, he'd also likely want to be chipping in more offensively, though it's pretty clear that will come. So far this season, he has four goals and three assists for seven points in 26 games while missing four others to injury. 

Those numbers aren't bad for a 20-year-old -- just 32 players who will be 20 or younger as of Feb. 1 have seen NHL ice this season, a list that includes teammate Emil Bemstrom -- and Texier is in his first full season in the world's best league. He's shown in the past he has the ability to quickly assimilate as he moves up, including his experience in Finland. 

After being a second-round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2017, Texier moved from his native France to Finland, where he had 13 goals and 22 points his first season in the Liiga. The next season, he led his KalPa team in scoring with 14 goals and 41 points, then immediately came to North America before making an impact with the Blue Jackets late last season. 

That was a sprint, though, while his current navigation through the 82-game schedule is a grind. It's a new experience but one he's enjoying, whether he's playing center or wing - as long as he's playing. 

"I would say it's the same (process), but it's a different league," Texier said of settling in in Finland vs. doing the same in the NHL. "The guys are way better, but it was kind of the same. First year, look at everything, try to play your game. The hockey was different back home in France so for sure you settled in and the second year, you know what to do. 

"Right now, there are no off games. You have to be 100 percent every night, even if you are injured or not playing good or you're tired. There's no excuse. I want to play a full season here, still want to be in the lineup every night, so you have to work for that. You have to deserve it and just play hard, do your best every night." 

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