Alex Formenton is making something rare, very real
If you were a student hoping to become a surgeon one day, the thought of leaving medical school early wouldn’t really enter your mind.
You do not get into the operating room without starring, scalpel in hand, at lower levels.
It’s just part of the natural progression of things.
Alex Formenton was headed along a pretty well-travelled path in his hockey career. He learned to skate. He got into AAA hockey and played for the Toronto Nationals and the Mississauga Rebels. He was drafted in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.
That is the equivalent of walking, running and riding a bike.
But in still being on the roster of the Ottawa Senators at the age of 18, Formenton has more than stepped off the path. He has parkoured a straight line to the National Hockey League over trees, bushes and the odd skyscraper.
It’s not about being an 18-year-old in the NHL. It’s about the jump he has successfully landed so far.
Formenton trains with Gary Roberts and calls the rear-foot elevated split squat one of his favourite exercises. That might help to explain his professional sure-footedness.
(By the way… that’s where you extend one leg straight out behind you while balancing on the other leg and you jump. Repeatedly. Holding a 50-pound dumbbell in each hand.)
The natural progression from major junior hockey to the NHL is rarely all that natural. Timing and luck play big parts and Formenton has had some of that as well. The Senators have been dealing with injuries to forwards Derick Brassard and Colin White and that opened up some playing time for other players during the pre-season, but Ottawa had 33 forwards at training camp. All of them older than Formenton. Any one of them could have nosed him out.
But they didn’t.
Maybe it’s just in Formenton’s nature to beat the odds.
He was an 11th round OHL pick. It’s not that he didn’t stand out. He did. As the smallest, smart guy out there. He had speed and skill and hockey IQ, but when you aren’t much north of 5-5 and your listed weight is 120 pounds, you have about as much of a chance of becoming a hockey player at a high level as you do becoming that surgeon after leaving medical school early.
But Formenton’s story is not about a little guy who worked hard and overcame his size. A growth spurt after the age of 15 took size out of his equation. Alex Formenton now stands 6-2.
He didn’t play major junior hockey as a 16-year-old, but he impressed the London Knights enough to join them out in Red Deer at the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament where he skated with the team every day as one of their black aces.
More importantly, Formenton got to watch the preparation that future NHLers like Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk went through as they went on to win junior hockey’s largest prize.
That may have given Formenton a head start to his OHL career and allowed him to slide right into the lineup as a 17-year-old. He recorded an assist in his first game and had three points in his first five games with the Knights.
Ice time was not easy to come by for rookies on the 2016-17 Knights. They had a veteran team that was made even more veteran as the year went along.
Formenton handled the minutes that he received very well and got an invite to the Top Prospects game where people began to learn his name and how to pronounce it after he won the skills competition.
(Think Forman from That 70s Show and add a “ton” to the end.)
He was getting notoriety, but he never took junior hockey by storm. Formenton had exactly zero points in 14 games in the 2017 OHL Playoffs.
To make the step to the NHL without dominating a level below is rare. Red-crested tree rat rare.
The last Canadian-born forward to do it and play a full season was Connor McDavid. The guy before him was Nathan McKinnon. Before that, it was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Are you seeing a pattern?
Yet, as Ottawa’s first game against the Washington Capitals draws closer, Formenton is still standing in the Senators’ dressing room. His gear is still in a stall with his name on it. He has lasted longer than nearly 20 other players who were trying to accomplish exactly what he is doing.
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Formenton has also signed his first entry-level contract and is ready to play if Senators’ head coach Guy Boucher puts him into the lineup.
There is no real secret, no magic potion, no sleight of hand.
Formenton is very precise in everything he does. He brings the right attitude and an incredible skill-set into every day.
If anyone is going to check out of major junior hockey early and successfully make it into the equivalent of hockey’s operating room, it just might be him.
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