As a professional hockey agent, Simo Niiranen has traveled the globe to find talent.
Still, even for him, it was a little strange flying to France last August to watch Alexandre Texier, then a 16-year-old center for the Grenoble Bruleurs de Loups (Wolf Burners).
"I have friends in France and I got a call," said Niiranen, an agent with Acme World Sports. "I was told, 'Hey, there's this exceptional French kid, and you should come over to look at him.' I had some reservations, but I trust these friends who told me about him. They were like, 'Hey, we're serious, or we wouldn't be calling you.' So, I booked a flight, jumped on a plane and went to see the kid."
It was a wise decision.
Texier, whom Niiranen now represents, was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round (No. 45) of the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas on June 23. After trading 20-year-old forward Keegan Kolesar to the Vegas Golden Knights to acquire the pick, Columbus used it to select Texier.
Niiranen sees similarities in Texier to Tuomo Ruutu, who had 346 points (148 goals, 198 assists) in 735 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils.
"I'm not saying he's already as good as Tuomo or will have as good a career," Niiranen said, "but that's the player I was reminded of. People may think I'm crazy saying that, but this guy made a huge impact on me. He was impressive."
Niiranen isn't the only one impressed by Texier, a 6-foot, 185-pound center who's good on faceoffs, sees the ice well and utilizes his size.
Texier had 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 40 games for Grenoble and 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 12 playoff games.
Video: CBJ's 45th pick in the NHL Draft, Alexandre Texier
He also played for three French national teams. Texier was France's captain in the 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship, played in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship and also played for the men's team in exhibition games prior to the men's world championship in Paris and Cologne, Germany.
A shoulder injury kept Texier out of the world championship and the NHL Combine in Buffalo, but it didn't cause his stock to fall. He met with 21 NHL teams in two days before the draft and then made history when the Blue Jackets picked him.
Texier, in Columbus but not skating during his first development camp, is the first French player drafted directly out of Ligue Magnus, founded in 1906.
"It's great for the French league," said Texier, whose father, Fabrice, also played for Grenoble from 1989-1992. "I am proud to be from France, a French hockey player, and it's great for Grenoble, my team."
Texier made France's U18 team as a 15-year-old. At 16, he had 70 points (40 goals, 30 assists) in 17 games for Grenoble's U18 team.
His offensive prowess was also good enough to catch the attention of Golden Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, a teammate for a brief time on France's world championship team.
"He's got extremely good skating skills," said Bellemare, who played last season with the Philadelphia Flyers. "He's easily got the skills to play a two-way game. He's going to have to put some weight on, but I'm excited to have a Frenchman like him [in the League]. He's going to be able take over soon on the national team, so that's fun to think about."
Texier dreams of playing in the NHL. Baie-Comeau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League selected him with the No. 17 pick of the 2017 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft on Wednesday, but likely will be playing in Sweden or Finland next season.
"This is the first step," he said. "It's just the very first step, but it's getting closer now."