10. Alex Formenton (Reader Rank: 9, Last Year: 13)
Welcome, beloved readers, to the top ten. With a group of prospects unlike any we’ve ever seen before in Ottawa, the remainder of this list, I assure you, will not disappoint. When Jacob Bernard-Docker and Vitaly Abramov don’t make the top ten, you know you have something special going on. Today, returning to the top ten we have speedy winger Alex Formenton. As you know, the Senators selected Formenton 47th overall in the 2017 entry draft in what ended up being a more quality over quantity crop for Ottawa. Having gone on their deepest playoff run in a decade, picks were few, and this second-rounder came to fruition only through the departure of Curtis Lazar. Looking back on that draft only three years later and having but two prospects to show for it would sting a lot were those prospects not Formenton and Drake Batherson.
Formenton debuted on a much thinner T25U25 at number 19 back in the fall of 2017 as a fast skater and an unspectacular point-producer coming out of a top-notch program in the London Knights. Here at S7S, Formenton earned comparisons to Ryan Dzingel as a player with an NHL floor thanks to his skating but a limited offensive ceiling coming off a modest draft year in the OHL. Formenton’s stock then skyrocketed in 2018 with a breakout D+1 season in London and a great camp with the Senators to boot. Alex found his way into the top ten for the first time that fall owing in no small part to some added size and newfound ability to muscle his way into those high-danger zones. Through no fault of his own, a season plagued with injuries and a growing farm system in Ottawa saw Formenton slide out of the top ten last year, coming in at number 13.
So how did he get back in the top ten with even more top-tier additions to the Senators system this year? 27 goals in 61 games in your rookie AHL season will do the trick. Prior to the premature conclusion of the 2019-20 AHL season, Formenton helped lead the charge for a Belleville team with its eyes on the Calder Cup along with the likes of his draft-mate Batherson and fellow rookie Josh Norris. I can only add so much about the season that was for Formenton as Spencer among others have penned a tonne of quality articles on the subject. Suffice to say, when Norris won the AHL’s Rookie of the Year title, Spencer was quick to point out just how close Formenton was on Norris’ heels, statistically speaking. Spencer summarizes Formenton’s formula for success quite neatly in this quote from his Belleville Year in Review article:
Of his 26 assists, only 5 came from his powerplay contributions whereas 16 came at even strength and another 5 while shorthanded. What’s even more remarkable about this stat is that of Formenton’s 16 even strength assists, 15 of them were primary. What this tells me is that Formenton was incredibly effective at even strength.
So how has Formenton developed from a fast yet unproductive skater with a third-line ceiling into a nominee for Rookie of the Year as a professional? Physical maturation hasn’t hurt his cause, as he now finds himself more often engaged in front of the net. Lest we forget Brady Tkachuk had a low-scoring draft year and his lack of finesse led many of us to question if he’d ever produce in the NHL. And, not unlike Brady, the combination of new-found strength along with such natural skating ability make Formenton an expert at drawing penalties. Imagine, if you will, a future in Ottawa when the Senators can have one of Tkachuk, Formenton, Roby Järventie, and Ridly Greig on each of their four lines. That team will have a surplus of time on the power play.
I cannot stress how good Alex Formenton is at getting under the other team's skin. Seems to happen almost every game. pic.twitter.com/1YG4EyaIrs— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) November 9, 2019
Formenton’s toolkit also makes him an excellent option on the penalty kill as a legitimate threat for short-handed rushes. And by his own admission, he’s not done developing yet, as he stated in an interview earlier this year, “I’m not done yet. I want to continue this into next year and keep progressing, so that’s just the start. I want to bring that into the summer, work at the things I can get better at and bring that into next year.”
Once again unpacking the tape from the ever-indispensable Sens Prospects, we can really dissect the ways in which Formenton has overcome the label as a depth winger with a lack of finish. First of all: the speed. His footwork probably gave Formenton a floor as at least an NHL player from draft day. I don’t know that Ottawa has had a skater this fluid since Erik Karlsson. And while skating alone has its value, Formenton’s sneakiness really sets him apart. Watch that highlight reel and try to count the number of times Formenton gets the back-checker or goaltender to misread the play or misidentify the shooter. It certainly helps to compensate for lack of shooting finesse when the other team doesn’t know who the trigger man will be.
It also helps Formenton’s case that he has attended the Brady Tkachuk seminar on How to Muscle Your Way into the Crease and just See what Happens. Watching the tape, you’ll also pick up on Formenton’s knack for creating screens and exploiting the back-checking opposition. Quick footwork and the willingness to drive through the slot lead to mistakes by the opposition and leave the opposing goaltender vulnerable. Formenton also doesn’t give up on loose pucks down low and, as we know, he’ll play through the whistle. My personal favourite sequence starts around the 7:55 mark of SP’s video. From the defensive end, Formenton uses his skating ability to elude one opposing defender, threatens to pass to create deception forcing the last back-checker out of the lane, and barrels in at full speed before the opposing net-minder can come out to challenge. That’s how a player without an elite release can still generate offence at the professional level.
Oh, and he’s still really fast.