LUCAN, Ont. – Even Guy Boucher can’t tap the brakes on someone as fast as Alex Formenton.
The Ottawa Senators head coach lavished extremely high praise on his 19-year-old training camp hopeful by drawing a loose comparison to the best player in the world before Tuesday’s pre-season opener.
“Speed. Everybody will talk about his speed,” said Boucher. “It’s clear, he’s a McDavid-type of speed in terms of what he looks like and how light he looks on his feet. His glide is unbelievable.”
No pressure, young man.
Formenton was a second-round pick in 2017 who briefly made the Senators roster out of training camp last year before being returned to the OHL’s London Knights after two weeks. He now finds the organization diving headfirst into a full-scale rebuild and will be given every opportunity to stick around Ottawa for an entire season.
That’s because his toolbox includes far more than the ability to get around the ice quickly. Formenton may not make high-end offensive plays at warp speed like McDavid – and, really, who does? – but he possesses a maturity and awareness that suggest he can handle playing against men.
“I think what people might bypass is that he’s an extremely hard-working kid,” said Boucher. “He’s got all the mental tools to be in the NHL. He goes to the net, he pays the price, he’s first on puck, taking checks to make plays happen. It’s always ‘Yes sir, what do you want me to do?’ …
“That’s always a coach’s dream to see that type of work ethic with that type of speed. It’s usually a great combination.”
Formenton’s skating stride is equal parts nurture and nature. He was a quick, smaller forward in his minor hockey days and started focusing on edge work about five years ago through specialized coaching. He worked with Barb Underhill and Jim Hughes for a couple summers before moving on to Tara McKay as part of his off-season training with Gary Roberts.
That allowed him to keep pace despite a growth spurt that took him from five-foot-six in his OHL draft year to six-foot-two today.
It’s also benefited him to spend two seasons in Canada’s top junior hockey factory with the Knights – following in the footsteps of several NHL players by learning the finer points of the game from Dale Hunter and his staff.
“I’d say London is like a mini NHL team,” said Formenton. “They prepare well for games, we do a lot of video and all that stuff. Just on the ice, they work a lot on your shot and stuff like that. So I think just the little parts of the organization help you round yourself out as a player. You see it obviously it works out with the amount of NHLers that come out of the program.”
The Senators opened their pre-season schedule about 30 minutes north of London as part of the Kraft Hockeyville festivities in Lucan. That gave Formenton a chance to catch up with old friends – including his billet family – but he hopes it’s his last visit to the region for the foreseeable future.
He’s among a group of Ottawa forward prospects in the running for a job that includes recent fourth-overall pick Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Logan Brown.
Formenton has a leg up in the race because of his jaw-dropping speed and a strong performance at the team’s rookie tournament earlier this month that left a lasting impression.
“He doesn’t need to make an impression anymore. He’s [done] enough,” said Boucher. “Right now it’s about ‘Can he keep up what he’s done?’ He’s very smart, he’s extremely hard-working, he really pays the price on the ice everywhere. That combination is really an appealing one for me. …
“Everybody knows that we’re wide open right now, so this is the perfect year for young guys.”