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ANALYSIS: Blue Jackets thoughts from Traverse City

Texier, Fix-Wolansky among those to stand out at NHL Prospects Tournament

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

The Blue Jackets time at the NHL Prospects Tournament is almost at an end, and while the team won't bring back another first-place trophy from Traverse City, it's been a fun couple of days on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay. 

Columbus earned two wins and a loss in its three round-robin games and will go for third place at 3:30 p.m. today in a game vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

What have we learned about some of the Blue Jackets prospects during the games so far? Here are a few notable observations from the opening three games.  

Texier plays center: If there's one thing that stands out about the Blue Jackets' lineup so far, it might be the fact that Alexandre Texier has played center for the prospects team. 

It's a position the soon-to-be 20-year-old played growing up in France, though he moved to wing the past two seasons playing in Finland and when he arrived in Ohio late last season.  

Could he end up back at the pivot at some point in his Blue Jackets tenure? It's certainly possible, and CBJ brass decided to give him a look at center in the prospects tournament just to see how he'd handle the spot. 

Count Cleveland Monsters coach Mike Eaves among those who sees good things. 

"One thing that was impressive, there were a couple of shifts where he was tired and yet he was our first forward back in the zone and he got back and did the hard thing," Eaves said after Saturday's game. "He's playing center, so that's one of the things a center has to do. As good as he is with the puck, he did some real hard things, too." 

The added defensive responsibilities haven't hurt his offense in Traverse City, as Texier has two goals and two assists thus far. Any added versatility could end up being good both for the Blue Jackets and Texier as he looks to stick with the big club this year. 

"With a guy with his skill, you would like to have more puck touches than you have in the middle," Eaves said. "In talking to the staff ... I think they want to see what he can do, how comfortable he can be with that and if he'll do the hard things in terms of being that down-low guy and getting it done. He's shown that so far." 

Getting their Fix: It's not hard to imagine Trey Fix-Wolansky becoming yet another late-round steal for the Blue Jackets. 

A seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft, the 5-foot-7 winger tore up the WHL with Edmonton the last two seasons, posting a 32-57-89 line two seasons ago and following it up with a 37-65-102 showing a year ago that placed him tied for fourth in the league in scoring. 

He's continued his strong play in Traverse City. He scored two goals in the opening game vs. the Rangers and made two plays that led directly to goals in the second game against Minnesota, keeping the puck in the zone in the leadup to Eric Hjorth's goal and then winning a battle and getting the puck to Texier for his OT winner.  

Size appears to be the major knock on Fix-Wolansky, but he appears to have all the other tools needed to succeed including a confidence and fire that seems to elevate his game in big moments.  

"He's a player," Eaves said. "He gets the game. He competes. The thing about this game or any sport is you have to use what your natural gifts are. He's smaller in stature but he can get underneath people and he's willing to do that and go win puck battles. He has a great stick and he understands how the game goes together." 

He'll likely begin the year with Cleveland after playing a trio of playoff games with the Monsters last season, but it's not hard to imagine him forcing the issue when it comes to a callup at some point. 

"I kind of just try to look at one day at a time," Fix-Wolansky said. "I'm not going to worry about where I'm going to be this year. Obviously I hope I'll be in the NHL, but wherever it is, I'm just going to try to continue to get better and become an NHL player one day." 

Goalies shine: If you look at the stats, Traverse City isn't exactly the best place to be a goaltender. 

With teams having so little time to practice, the games are a bit helter-skelter. There's a tremendous pace to them, as to be expected with young legs on the ice trying to turn heads, and that can lead to defensive breakdowns. 

What does that mean? A lot of goals.  

Half of the teams in Traverse City, including Columbus, averaged at least four goals per game in the round robin. Only Minnesota scored fewer than three per game on average. And the tournament's overall save percentage for all goalies is .852. 

So you'd have to say the Blue Jackets goalies look pretty good when you look at the numbers. The team save percentage of .894 is second in the tournament. Veini Vehvilainen in one start leads all goalies at the event with a 1.85 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, while Elvis Merzlikins is at 3.02/.889 after giving up three power-play goals in Monday's loss to Dallas. 

It's a small sample size, of course, but considering the two netminders have little experience on the North American ice surface and are facing accomplished scorers from both junior hockey, college hockey and overseas, it's been a good trip for the two. 

I'll have a more complete story Wednesday on the goalies and their experience in Traverse City, but on first glance the Blue Jackets have a pair of talented netminders who will take part in training camp when it starts later this week.  

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