Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #10: Alex Formenton

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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:

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.

Comments

So do you guys think Formenton and/or Batherson will make the Sens roster?

Cus I’d rather have those guys out there instead of Z. Smith and Pyatt in the bottom six, playing with Brown, White, Chlapik, and Tkachuk.

If there’s only 1 spot, and that spot is in the bottom six – then I would prefer that spot go to Batherson. If there’s multiple openings, or if they ignore the 1 way contract status of some other guys and just award spots on merit, then I hope both guys can make the team. Might as well lean into the youth movement, at this point.

It's definitely where the glutton of contracts (McCormick, Pyatt, Paajarvi, Smith) in the bottom-six can present an issue

It’s why I think he’s going to be back in junior for another year. Depth isn’t bad, but hopefully a renewed farm system can mean that the depth can be quality young talent instead of low ceiling grinders.

Three of those four won’t be around next season.

I don't see the glutton of contracts being a huge issue.

A line of Pyatt, Paajarvi and Smith makes a decent ‘3rd line’ on most teams where they aren’t relied on to be more than that and have some support on defence and in net like most teams have.

That same line would make a pretty good fourth line on any team. So if any of Ottawa’s prospects play their way into the NHL bumping McCormick, Paajarvi, Pyatt or Smith down the depth chart only helps the team. Not only does it allow talent to join the club, but it permits the prospects to get playing time while the ceilinged players get the limited minutes because it won’t hinder their development.

Mind you I make this comment with the reasonable assumption that a quality NHL team wouldn’t balk at burying a contract or two in the AHL to let more deserving players get the ice time. For Ottawa, that will be the problem.

I see what you mean..

But if I’m looking to be a contending team (which we don’t know if that’s what the Sens are trying to be… lol), I think Pyatt and Paajarvi are fourth liners if they’re on the team at all. McCormick’s an AHLer, and Smith, you could argue, is a solid, if unspectacular T9 type that adds value because of his versatility.

I do agree with your conclusion that having those guys around helps with NHL depth, and I certainly would be happy having a Paajarvi/Smith around on the cheap with a hockey ops crew that’s fine demoting them if the young players have shown that they’re better.

Trying or not

With the loss of Hoffman, Ottawa won’t be a contending team next season, no matter how good the bottom 6 is (relative). I agree with your view here.

It seems to me that by projecting all of these players poorly or less than enthusiastically you are just insulating yourselves should they be poor right out of the gate. I also believe Paajaarvi has fallen hard in projections in the offseason, considering most people were quite happy with his play last year. Based on the comments that he should be pulled for better prospects comment that is. To me he was a better pickup last season for our bottom 6 than most of our bottom 6 was performing prior to.

I fully agree that Paajarvi was a good bottom six pickup for the Sens last year

I do, however, think that there are noticeable differences between the Sens last year and an actual contending team.

Again, on a one-year deal, I’m fine with it. McCormick, Pyatt, etc. should go first if we want to open up spots for young players.

I can live without McCormick, Pyatt and Paul this year if the replacement players are better. I have to say though that Pyatt has consistantly outperformed people preconceived notions of him buy way of stats. It’s why he has occasionally got a look at the top 6. I don’t want him for the top 6, but he isnt out of place on most teams bottom 6.

Don't want to rush him

But I am soo excited to see what he can do on NHL level, Boucher still a concern coaching him though

Agree on the kid; disagree about Boucher

I think the kid has the tools and talent that Boucher covets.

He’s got speed, he’s got skill (despite being buried in deeper rosters), he’s defensively responsible and he has the truculence many NHL-types and fans still appreciate and he has decent size. This is definitely a Boucher type of player in a still developing youthful package.

If he returns to London for another year I think we can see the Hunters and the Knights organization do right by him – help him round out his game, build his confidence, mentor him on work ethic and off-ice skills that will get him ready for the NHL.

I’d like to see the Hunters take over the family GMing of Ottawa, under a new owner

With the right GM and/or coach, it don’t matter who the owner is, which I think is the hardest ask to change of the 3.

Ultimately the owner has final say on everything regarding HIS team. So yes, it does matter who the owner is.

Again with the right GM that isn’t true. Do you think Brian Burke has ever let an owner get in the way of him assembling his team?

You do realize the owner can just fire the gm whenever he feels.

The right GM would do the job good enough that it wouldn’t be an issue.

Problem is that any GM good enough to turn Ottawa into a contender could get a much better offer elsewhere.

Well, it’s not like the owner sets the budget… oh, wait, he does.

But he doesn’t oversee and approve the overall direction and objectives of the team, right? Oh, wait, he does.

He wouldn’t interfere in player personnel decisions for non-hockey related reasons, would he? Oh, wait, we strongly suspect he does. (I say it that way for those unable to allow a rhetorical flight of fancy to pass without jumping on the slightest possible chance to gotcha, even though they are so inept themselves at writing that they routinely find themselves at the bottom of a long string trying to say that what they really meant all along was…. but we really know he does)

He wouldn’t gut the entire hockey operations, marketing department, and right on up to the cleaning staff, would he? Oh, wait, he did.

SO, I guess the option of the really, really good GM would be to, what? Say stop it? Quit? If it’s quit, we will have the longest list of former really, really good GMs in the shortest time ever for a franchise, if they choose the chance of joining that list in the first place, just to help set a record or something.

Melnyk should stop hiding behind fake avatars to defend himself here.

It's settled then.

The Hunters can buy the organization with Alfie as a partner. Ottawa’s prospects can be groomed along the 401 from London through Brampton and Belleville en route to Ottawa.

I think those 3 together

dont have a shot in hell at having the money to buy this team.

Especially with the Lebreton situation, this team will be more expensive as a result. Its as much of a land deal at this point than anything else.

Yeah

They need to be brought in as the management core by a real owner, not a convicted fraud artist with more paper than money.

Laliberte, Desmarais, or someone like that would be required

Hunters/Alife would obviously need obviously need a big money backer (with actual big money). Other than maybe Terry Matthews, there probably isn’t anyone local. Someone like Guy Laliberte or Andre Desmarais, who were involved in one of the LeBreton bids, would be needed to behind the group.

With all due respect to Laliberte

I would prefer a more established megabucks owner. Laliberte is self made, creative, a force to be reckoned with. He is living an adventurous life, full of space flights, poker, expansive world apocalypse construction in Polynesia. I really think this organization needs someone with the experience and record of success of a Demarrias in running a complex organization. Frankly, after Firestone, Bryden and Melnyk, we could use a wealthy adult with organizational experience in charge. Laliberte sold 90% of his stake and is just a creative and strategic consultant to a large multinational.

Beggars can't be choosers <img src="//fonts.voxmedia.com/emoji/unicode/1f609.png" alt=":wink:" class="emoji">

Any new owner will be drastically better than the disastrous situation we are in right now

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