9: Alex Formenton (Reader Rank: 8, Last Year: 11)
One of the more interesting aspects of contributing to the Top 25 Under 25 rankings over the years has been watching certain players rise and fall as they progress or fail to make an impact at the highest level. If a young prospect is with the organization long enough, you can trace their arc over a good chunk of their careers. And while he’s hardly over the hill, Alex Formenton will actually be 23 before the start of the season; this is his 6th (!) year on the list. So while there is doubtless some improvement to be made at the margins, at this point in his career it wouldn’t be correct to call him a “prospect” any longer.
Now, I must stop here for a moment because it would be doing our readers a disservice if we didn’t address the elephant in the room: Formenton was a member of the 2018 Canadian World Juniors team at the centre of the on-going sexual assault scandal that continues to roil Hockey Canada (if details of sexual violence upset you, please be careful when following that link). Despite numerous media requests, he has elected not to make any public comment. The Ottawa Senators have also refused to comment on the matter. It is impossible, at this moment, to know if he was involved in the incident or not.
After much public pressure, Hockey Canada has re-opened their investigation into the matter and so have the London police. There is no timeline against which we can expect to receive any updates from either effort. As a staff, and as fans, we are stuck in limbo. For some, discussing Formenton’s on-ice contributions is not currently palatable. Were it to become clear that Formenton was involved, everything that comes after this would be trivial at best. Right now, there is not much to do but wait. It is an extremely uncomfortable feeling.
On the ice, Formenton completed his first full year in the NHL in 2021-22. He suited up for 79 games last season, notching 18 goals and 14 assists for 32 points— very respectable production for a third line winger who spent virtually no time on the power play. Formenton was also one of the Sens’ most utilized, and most effective, forwards on the penalty kill. His blazing speed generated short-handed breakaways seemingly every other game. No Senator put more fear into opposing forwards vainly attempting to defend him in open ice. He can’t carry the puck at the same pace as Connor McDavid, but I’d put him down as a decent shot to beat even McDavid in a straight footrace. No matter what else happens with his game, Formenton will likely always have a place on an NHL roster based on that speed alone.
It should also be noted that while Formenton’s individual counting numbers are more than respectable for his role, as a team the Sens struggled badly when he was on the ice last year. Of the team’s returning forwards, Formenton’s goals for percentage of 39.29 was the worst and only Austin Watson’s 40.91% was even particularly close. Ottawa gave up a whopping 51 goals against when he was on the ice at 5v5 last year while only scoring 33. The underlying shot and scoring chance metrics weren’t much better: Ottawa had a CF% of 47.07 and an xGF% of 46.67. In short, the team was outshot, out-chanced, and badly outscored. He was likely a bit unlucky to have a such a dramatically negative goal differential but it’s also the case that his defensive heat map is particularly unflattering when one considers how many primo chances the opposition got on his side of the ice.
Lest you hope that part of his struggles could be explained by his deployment, Formenton actually enjoyed cushy zone starts and league average quality of competition. It’s just one season for a young player on what was effectively a bad team so I’m not ready to make any definitive proclamations, but there’s enough there to give me a bit of pause. Certainly the top line scoring numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Ottawa appears poised to have a much improved top six next year; the performance of the third and fourth line will go a long way towards answering the question of whether they are play-off contenders or pretenders. A repeat of Formenton’s counting numbers from last season would be most welcome, but another disastrous campaign in terms of goal and shot share most certainly would not. The potential trio of Formenton, Shane Pinto, and Mathieu Joseph has a lot of fans salivating; will it work? Last year it was understood that the team would miss the play-offs and it was easy to forgive poor team results. That will not be the case this upcoming season; the pressure will very much be on the young trio.
For a number of reasons, not all related to his on-ice production, there’s a fair amount of uncertainty about Formenton’s future role with the team. He’s an NHLer, there’s no doubt about that, and at the very least he’s a superior penalty killer. There’s some cause to believe Formenton can be more than that, but his path is still uncharted. When (if?) he’s signed, there’ll be a lot to prove.