Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images
Novak proved himself on an AHL deal this season after a hampered collegiate career.
In the wake of several organizational moves that have come since the suspension of the NHL season, this one in particular seemed obvious. On March 25, Nashville announced they had signed forward Tommy Novak to a two-year entry-level contract.
After playing on an AHL contract this year for Milwaukee, it felt imminent Novak would be extended an entry-level offer, as he was instrumental in the success of one of the Admirals’ best lines all season and collected 42 points himself.
By The Numbers
Much like I noted the other day with regards to the Patrick Harper signing, Novak was once a promising prospect that ran into some significant injuries during his college hockey career. The Wisconsin native was a third round pick of the Predators in 2015 after a 48-point season for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL – good for second on the team behind Brock Boeser.
Novak also led his Team USA squad in scoring that year at the U19 World Jr. A Challenge and the U18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He carried that offensive touch into his freshman year at Minnesota, too, scoring 27 points in 37 games for the Golden Gophers.
The next three seasons, though, were nothing but uncertainty for Novak. A knee injury limited him to just 20 games his sophomore year and further complications with his hands, wrist, groin and hip slowed down his offensive production, limiting him to just 61 points in his last 92 games of college hockey.
But his ability to read the ice and then convert through passing and shooting lanes was always so obvious that it felt wise for the organization to bring him in last year, and they were certainly proven correct.
Novak finished third in team scoring this season and was seventh among all AHL rookies. He spent most of the season centering a line between Cole Schneider and Daniel Carr but was not just a beneficiary of their firepower: Novak’s 61.54% iP1P rate is fourth among all forwards on the team who skated in 30+ games (behind Trenin, Carr and Olivier).
Much like Patrick Harper, Novak’s exit and entry rates are impressive. His puck handling abilities jump off the page at you and that’s noticeable in the game tape seen below. He’s not the most prolific shooter, with just over nine individual Corsi attempts per 60 minutes of even strength play, but he was also flanked by two natural shooters most of the season.
The Scouting Tape
As mentioned above, Novak settled in skating between Daniel Carr and Cole Schneider for much of the season and became the Admirals’ top center with ample power play minutes, too. Those are both positions where his skill set would succeed the most, and it begs the question how much the organization would want Daniel Carr back next season to help continue this development.
This trio has such impressive zone exit and entry rates because they were near perfect at transitioning in waves with proper puck support. In the clip above, Novak makes a proper move to the boards once he recognizes the need for breakout support and dishes an excellent pass to Daniel Carr.
My favorite part of this play, however, is Novak’s quick touch pass picked up by Jeremy Davies off of Carr’s rebound. Novak is such an instinctual passer and his stick blade is always well-positioned for any assist. Once the puck is cleared, Novak makes a nice move in the neutral zone and displays another quick entry pass before finding open space to help set up Cole Schneider’s goal.
Novak and his linemates were also great neutral zone players, often forcing turnovers either along on the boards or in open ice. Notice above how quickly Novak turns this takeaway into an excellent zone-entry pass for Daniel Carr.
Even when their exits or entries became awkward or disconnected, Novak’s playmaking abilities combined with Carr and Schneider’s north-south offensive drive turned most plays into some sort of scoring chance.
Any above-average acceleration won’t immediately come off the screen at you when watching Novak skate, but he has such a properly extended stride that he can regularly beat opponents in one-on-one races as seen above. After losing an edge, Novak – with the help of Schneider – regains possession and is able to provide two-layer puck protection (stick blade and outward-facing leg) up the boards before setting up two shot assists.
Novak’s defensive positioning is sound, too, although the Admirals play a dense scheme that concentrates forwards lower in the zone. So, he wasn’t always relied on in more traditional capacities for centers in the defensive zone. Sometimes I think his puck support can be a bit more articulate or anticipatory, but overall it’s an aspect of his game that’s developed nicely.
Novak is an asset on the power play, too, in a way similar to Patrick Harper. He occupies the half wall spot on the right side of the zone and is very fluid in transitioning from blue line support to stick handling deeper into the zone then providing a pass to the slot or a high-danger scoring chance.
After Novak finished his senior year at Minnesota, he signed a one-year AHL contract with the Admirals and technically became an NHL free agent for the 2019-20 season. This contract is a two-year deal that comes with a $817.5K cap hit each year.
There are some interesting wrinkles to the deal, however. Novak will secure a standard $92.5K signing bonus each year and an AHL salary of $70K each year. But his base NHL salary is $700K in year one and $750K in year two; additionally, he has a chance at $132.5K in performance bonuses in year one and $82.5K in year two.
Novak will become a restricted free agent upon expiry in 2022.