10. Alex Formenton (Reader Rank: 7, Last Year: 19)
What a year it was for Alex Formenton. Outside of Christian Wolanin and fellow 2017 draft pick, Drake Batherson, no Sens prospect went from relative unknown to household name as quickly as him.
We all know the story by now: Formenton was drafted 47th overall after a solid draft season that saw him put up 34 points in 65 games. The mark had him ranked eleventh among Knights forwards in points-per-game, and Formenton found himself on the fourth line during last season’s OHL playoff run.
Heading into this season, fans and analysts alike trusted three things:
- Formenton was fast. Not the “wow, he’s a good skater” fast, but the “best skater in his draft class” fast.
- London is a development dynamo. One of the CHL’s most storied franchises, the list of high-end players coming out of London is very long, and if Formenton is trusted there, he’s likely going to be a good pro.
- What will happen with more opportunity? If Formenton gets top-six minutes, will his point totals increase? Will the other aspects of his game develop in turn to match his feet?
The projection on Formenton was that of a top-nine winger who could penalty kill. He had a decent chance of becoming a pro, buoyed by his ability to get his shots off in high-danger areas, but could stand to produce more before scouts believed in a higher ceiling.
Here’s the change this year:
That’s first-line production across the board. Formenton’s assist rate dropped, but his scoring rate skyrocketed at 5-on-5 as he nearly doubled his goal and point totals. Why? Well, it’s partly due to opportunity. After having a poor first half, London decided that it wouldn’t strive to compete for the OHL title this year, and traded away three top-six forwards: Cliff Pu and Max Jones (to Kingston), and Robert Thomas (to Hamilton). This promoted Formenton up to the Knights top-line with 2018 first-rounder, Liam Foudy, and he flourished.
The Senators will want to take their fair share of credit in helping Formenton’s development along, too. He started the season as a development camp standout, and impressed the coaching staff so much that he made the team — the one that just came off a conference finals worthy playoff run — out of training camp. He only suited up in one game, but stayed around the NHL groups for two weeks before returning to a floundering Knights squad. Confidence, etcetera.
Formenton took advantage of whatever mojo he was on as he suited up for Team OHL in their annual super series against the Russian juniors, earned an invite to Team Canada’s training camp, and made that team, too. With the two Sens prospects starting in fourth-line or healthy scratch territory, both ended the tournament in important, top-nine roles for a gold medal winning squad. Formenton was on the ice to protect a one goal lead with a minute remaining, and potted the empty netter to seal the deal.
He ended the year in karmic fashion, leading the Knights with 7 points and 21 shots on goal in four games as they were swept by Owen Sound. This allowed the Senators to bring him over to Belleville for a two-game series before he suffered a slight injury to end the year. But let’s just emphasize the change again: from eleventh on his OHL team in points-per-game, to a point-per-game OHLer, gold medal winning player that saw time in the AHL and NHL in one year.
What about his game changed?
First, Formenton continued to grow into his frame. Over the last three years, Formenton — who was days away from being eligible for the 2018 draft — grew from 5-foot-5 to 6-foot-2. This added reach helped tremendously in his ability to protect the puck while he carried it up the ice, and made him a pickpocket threat on the forecheck. Formenton has also shown the ability to throw his body around when he wants to and get into the face of other players (which he says he gets from Wendel Clark..); adding more muscle to his lanky frame without sacrificing too much speed will help round out his power game at the next level.
OHL blogger Brock Otten ranked Formenton as his 19th best OHL prospect this summer, and had this to say about the Sens winger:
Speed, speed, and more speed. Formenton knows his role on the ice is to push the pace of play and put pressure on opposing defenses. His play without the puck and his physical intensity level improved drastically this year. And he continues to get better at making plays with the puck at top speed. Going to be a very useful NHL player for a long time, perhaps even as early as next year.
So, what’s next for Formenton? On one hand, it’s hard to see him not getting a longer look to make the team this year. After all, he made a stronger Sens team out of camp last year, set out to do all that he was expected to do this year, and is already a favourite of the coaching staff. His game lends to that of a role player to start, with Formenton easily able to get time on a horrid Sens penalty kill, and wingers being easier to shelter than centres (like Logan Brown). On the other hand, while Formenton progressed tremendously in the OHL this year, he didn’t put up production like Logan Brown or Drake Batherson. In a piece I wrote for The Athletic ($) last year, I found that, generally speaking, a 1.5 points-per-game rate was a good indicator of whether a prospect could be a top-six scorer in the NHL. Now, that’s never been Formenton’s projection, but if the Sens are looking for him to continue to develop his skill game, having him lead London on a (hopefully) deeper playoff run could help. Moreover, with Knights head coach Dale Hunter now the coach of Canada’s U20 team, Formenton is a lock and expected to play a top-six role.