The Journey: Mid-Season Crashes (Formenton, Puljujarvi, Cirelli)

Benjamin Gehrels

2022-04-09

Welcome back to The Journey, where we follow hockey prospects and their paths to the NHL, providing fantasy predictions and analysis along the way. This week, we'll examine the trajectories of three young players who are establishing a concerning pattern of crashing production-wise mid-season and attempt to ascertain what we can expect from them moving forward.

Alex Formenton

The young speedy Senator went nearly a point per game (15 in 17) in the second quarter of the season but has only managed 13 points in the other 50 games. The strangest part is that from the second to the third quarter his ice time went up by over two minutes, his power-play time increased by almost a minute, and his shot rate rose slightly (2.2 to 2.3). But his points plummeted from a 72-point pace to a 28-point pace.

Formenton joined Connor Brown and Tim Stutzle in Q2, and the three clearly discovered lightning in a bottle. During that stretch, Brown scored nine points in 11 games and Stutzle scored 12 in 16. Although one might think that the dynamic Stutzle was the driver on that line, Formenton had a higher IPP (78) than both Stutzle (68) and Brown (69). Notably, however, all three are heavily involved in goals scored while they're on the ice regardless of linemates—which have been shuffled fairly regularly throughout the season by coach D.J. Smith. Although the three were reunited eight games ago, Formenton has been unable to rediscover his scoring touch (one point) and has stopped shooting the puck (nine shots), as has Brown, while Stutzle is having the best run of his year so far (6 points in 7 games).

At the end of the day, Formenton is a 22-year-old rookie on a similar season-long scoring pace as more-hyped prospects like Alex Newhook and Philip Tomasino. But he's also contributing more in multi-cat formats than either of those comparables with his two shots and 1.3 hits per game. Further, while both Newhook and Tomasino have more or less chugged along at a similar pace all year, Formenton had this incredible point-per-game spurt mid-year—which shows that he's at least capable of elite production if he can keep consistent linemates and figure out how to sustain his high-level play.

The real Formenton likely isn't a point-per-game player. His profile to this point has been an elite speedster with middle-six skill. He scored at only a half-point-per-game pace in his OHL draft year, which isn't great, and peaked in his D+2 year in the AHL when he scored 53 points in 61 games as part of a stacked Belleville squad featuring players like Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Logan Brown, Vitaly Abramov, and Erik Brannstrom—several of whom have since graduated to the NHL. He then struggled in his D+3 year, scoring only four goals in 13 games, before graduating to Ottawa full-time this year.

Inconsistency isn't surprising at all for young players at th