After a long layoff, the Ottawa Senators returned to action Thursday night with a convincing 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames. One of the bright spots in the game was the play of 22-year-old Alex Formenton, who logged two assists. With nine points in his last 10 games, his play has been impressive since his promotion to the second line, skating with Tim Stützle and Connor Brown. With his speed, and his ability to finish his chances of late, he is flourishing in his new role and should be able to build upon it to cement himself as a top-six forward.
While Connor McDavid is thought of as the fastest forward in the NHL, Formenton is arguably faster after beating McDavid’s fastest skater time in the AHL skills competition. He uses his speed to create separation on the rush, but at times has had trouble finishing his chances.
There have been a number of speedy players who have been able to carve out productive careers in the NHL, regardless of their finishing ability. Carl Hagelin is a great example of a player who, at times, has been inconsistent offensively but always played with speed and effort, adding value to any team he played for. In my opinion, Formenton could end up with a career similar to Andrew Cogliano, who played with some great players and used his speed to provide 35-45 points per season.
In this way, if Formenton wants to stick in the NHL and carve out a meaningful role, he must continue to give maximum effort and use his speed to ensure his role is secure.
Formenton’s Penalty Killing Prowess
Speedy penalty killers are an Achilles heel of almost any power play in the league. If a team can employ two or three quick forwards on their penalty kill unit, opposing teams have to adjust accordingly. In the back of their heads, they might be hesitant to make certain plays, like devastating cross-ice passes, that are usually the bread and butter of effective power plays.
Formenton has proved exactly this during his time with the Senators. He routinely creates chances out of nothing with his speed and anticipation ability. He is aggressive with his stick and positions himself effectively to break up plays.
This isn’t to say that he is out there looking for chances to break out of the zone on the penalty kill, but the mere fact that he’s on the ice can coerce teams to be a little more conservative with their passes on the power play. This will only become more apparent as he improves his defensive game.
Formenton’s Effort Level
In the NHL, there are some players that seem to always be hounding the puck, while there are some that seem to be better at looking like they are giving maximum effort. For example, compare the everyday effort level of Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane. It’s not like Kane isn’t trying, but you could perhaps say that his interest in forechecking or backchecking is varied.
Watching Formenton play, his effort level is always there. He hasn’t developed (and likely won’t ever develop) the high-end skill of a Patrick Kane, so he can’t afford to snooze at any point. He understands that and plays with that intensity night-in and night-out. This not only gives head coach D.J. Smith reason to trust him in all situations, but it’s a habit of players on winning teams.
Developing Chemistry with Brown and Stützle
It’s no secret that part of Formenton’s improved scoring output has a lot to do with the quality of players he is playing with. Earlier in the season, Formenton was stuck on the third or fourth line, playing alongside forwards with less skill, making it hard for him to produce points consistently. Now he’s playing with Connor Brown, who can seemingly mesh with any player, and Tim Stützle, who has a deadly wrister and speed to burn, to form a devastating trio that can do almost anything.
The three enjoy playing together as well, and you can see it on the ice and when the camera pans to them on the bench. Stützle said that he feels “really confident right now, but Formenton is playing really really well right now too, and I love playing with him.”
If Brown can keep up his effective 200-foot play, along with the emergence of Stützle and Formenton, the Senators might surprise a few teams down the stretch. Their top-six looks solid and may be set for the future.
Potential Power Play Promotion
While Formenton has lacked finishing ability so far in his NHL career, the last 10 games have proven he can do more than just fly down the wing. He has four goals and nine points during that stretch, and that’s without any power-play time.
Considering that he’s only 22 years old, he still has plenty of time to develop his offensive tools. It’s time to put him on the second power-play unit permanently. He would be an asset in zone entries, using his speed to weave through the neutral zone and find a quick pass or carry the puck in. He could easily replace Chris Tierney, Nick Paul, or Zach Sanford. If the Senators see him as part of their future, they need to prioritize his development now.
Given his comfortability in the top-six and his speed and poise with the puck, Formenton is proving that he deserves to stay on the second line. Furthermore, if he continues his production, the Senators will likely play spoiler against some strong teams later in the season.
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Writer and hockey addict from the GTA, covering the Ottawa Senators. Leafs fan from birth, moved to BC to explore the mountains and find the strength to keep cheering. Love talking prospects, potential, and coaching strategies.