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Remi Elie couldn’t find the right fit as a rookie in the American Hockey League last season.
Elie had a strong training camp with the Dallas Stars and was one of the final players sent down to the AHL before the 2015-16 season. That was supposed to be the launching pad for a strong rookie season, and a potential NHL call-up at some point.
Instead Elie’s game went in the opposite direction with the Texas Stars after NHL training camp.
There were more highs than lows during Elie’s first pro season. He would go through long stretches of what looked like apathy on ice, and he struggled establish any consistency in his play.
At one point there was serious consideration to send the 2013 second-round pick to the ECHL.
“Remi needed to grow and he was just Ok throughout that season,” Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal said earlier this season. “It’s tough to make the jump from junior to pro hockey, probably the toughest jump you can make.”
It didn’t help that Elie had grown comfortable playing with Connor McDavid during his final season with the Erie Otters. Joining Erie is a mid-season trade, Elie’s OHL point totals took a leap up to 42 points in 28 games while playing on McDavid’s wing.
So after playing with McDavid, one of the better players on the planet — even as an 18-yearold — Elie was now playing with third-line AHL players and struggled to find the right fit.
“I needed to get what worked for me,” Elie said. “And what I did last season didn’t really work that well.”
It’s not an easy role to accept, but Elie bought in and accepted that his path to an NHL future would be as more defensive-minded forward and a penalty killer. He’s a strong skater and brings speed, but doesn’t have the finish to be an NHL goal scorer on a consistent basis.
“He turned into their most consistent forward in Texas,” an NHL Eastern Conference scout said. “He became the player that you would talk about most with others after the game. He wasn’t having the points, but you kept noticing him.”
The Stars, of course, also kept tabs on the 6-foot-1, 210-pound winger throughout the season. He wasn’t one of the first call-ups this season, but when Antoine Roussel injured his hand blocking a shot against the New York Islanders on March 2, the Stars had the replacement they needed waiting in the AHL.
Elie isn’t an antagonist or pest like Roussel is — he’s a bit more soft-spoken and isn’t one for long conversations — but he brings many of the same elements in his game. He’s a hard-skating winger, relentless on the forecheck, and does a good job of reading when and where to throw a hit (something that’s improved over the past two seasons).
“You look at the number of chances he created, the duress he put their defense under and the fact that he’s a physical player,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think there’s been some situations where we haven’t been hard enough to play against. You take Roussel of our lineup and I think that’s a good replacement to continue down that path where we’re hard to play against.”
Eight games into his NHL call-up, Elie has a goal and two assists. He’s been playing with better players than he played with in the AHL, and he’s been allowed to play a simple game while allowing his more skilled offensive teammates to push the attack in the offensive zone.
His first goal was a perfect example of that. It was a simple forecheck where Elie forced a turnover before going hard to the net and scored on a rebound.
“We knew this (call-up) would be good for him,” Stars assistant general manager Scott White said. “We had to be patient with him and he needed to show some forward progress before getting this chance. I think he understands his role now, and what it’ll take for him to stay up here.”
It’s been a confidence boost for Elie, who doesn’t like to talk about his past struggles that much, but does acknowledge the major strides he’s made from his first pro season.
“I wasn’t happy with how (last season) went,” Elie said. “I thought I was closer to being in the NHL, but I guess I didn’t realize how much work I needed.”
Elie’s hard work may have found him a permanent role in Dallas and a full-time NHL job to start next season.
With the expansion draft looming, the Stars could lose Antoine Roussel to the Vegas Golden Knights and Elie would be a viable replacement. There’s also the more ideal possibility of having Elie and Roussel in the lineup at the same time, which would make the Stars a bit more frustrating to play against next season.
“I know that I have to earn this now,” Elie said. “It’s felt good to play here.”