Welcome back to our Year In Review feature. Now that the offseason is underway, we’re looking back at everyone who played a meaningful role on the Ottawa Senators this season and is likely to stick around next season. You can check out some of our past profiles here:
Today we’re talking about Alex Formenton, an exciting prospect on a team full of exciting prospects. The 21-year-old left winger has spent most of his professional hockey career in the AHL so far, but took a big step forward in 2021, playing 20 games with the big club, even though he spent most of his time in the bottom six.
Anyone who has watched Alex Formenton play hockey will tell you one thing that jumps out about him: he is fast. Like, heartstopping-breakaway-every-time-he’s-on-the-ice, it’s-possible-that-no-defenseman-will-ever-catch-him, please-put-him-in-the-all-star-game-so-he-can-win-fastest-skater kinds of fast. He’s a speedy boy. It’s impossible to miss. Other aspects of his game could still use a bit of work, but his speed is by far his best asset, and what makes him such an exciting player to watch.
By the numbers:
Although Formenton passes the eye test with flying colours, his underlying numbers definitely leave something to be desired.
A quick look at Natural Stat Trick says that Formenton was one of the Sens’ worst performers in Corsi For % and Shots For % this year, with most of his other stats being pretty middle-of-the-road. Surprisingly, he also had a really high PDO and shooting percentage, despite having been criticized in the past for not having much finish. He also ended the season with only 4 goals and 2 assists, which isn’t terrible for a fourth liner who only played 20 games, but can certainly be improved upon.
On the penalty kill, his numbers were a bit more impressive. According to Natural Stat Trick, Formenton played just under 40 minutes shorthanded, which makes him the 11th most used skater on the penalty kill. It’s not a huge sample size, but it’s not nothing, and what we have seen so far has been pretty promising. He has some of the best shorthanded offensive stats on the team behind only Connor Brown and Nick Paul, with significantly fewer minutes. In Corsi % and Fenwick %, he trails only Victor Mete. The eye test definitely backs this up - he seems to be a strong two-way player with the speed to create breakaways and odd-man rushes.
Before this season, Alex Formenton had only played 10 NHL games across 2 previous seasons, with only 1 NHL goal. He had been one of Belleville’s best players in 2019-20, though, and with Josh Norris moving up to the big club, he was expected to be one of the Baby Sens’ best players going into the season. Though he started the season in Belleville, it was expected that he would take a big step forward and potentially become a real NHLer in 2021.
And that’s pretty much what he did. He played only 13 games in the AHL, scoring four goals, before being called up to Ottawa at the end of March and staying there until the end of the season. According to his game logs, his icetime remained pretty consistent over the course of the season, with no significant jump or drop at any point, and his production didn’t change much either. He had a few especially impressive games here and there, and it looks like DJ Smith was comfortable keeping him on the third line all season.
Hockeyviz says his most common linemates were Connor Brown, Nick Paul, Chris Tierney and Shane Pinto, especially toward the end of the season, but it’s hard to pinpoint any big changes in the way he was used. The coach also trusted him on the penalty kill pretty much from the very start, with very little fluctuation in his PK time. It looks like he slotted into a specific role right away, and stuck with that role until the end of the season.
Formenton is the same age as Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris, and coming into the league at the same time as a lot of really promising Sens prospects. He won himself a spot in the lineup in 2020-21, and there’s every reason to believe he’ll get more chances to prove himself next year.
There’s no rush, though, with the team pretty well set up along the left wing. Tkachuk and Stützle have locked down the first and second line left wing positions, and Nick Paul had a breakout season last year. Barring a major jump in production, it seems most likely that Formenton will stick around the bottom six for a little while, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s already proven that he can play on the penalty kill, and his underlying numbers will hopefully improve with time.
Personally, I’d be happy to see him turn into a Pageau-type player. By that I mean a speedy two-way forward who can play on the penalty kill and score the occasional shorthanded goal. Like Pageau, Formenton might spend most of his time in the bottom-six, but still have the ability to play on the top lines if injuries necessitate it.