Following a major roster shakeup at the NHL trade deadline, consistency has been the name of the game for a Nashville Predators team looking to establish and maintain its identity amid a sea of trades, call-ups, injuries and more.
One of the key sources of this consistency has been forward Tommy Novak, who has become such a reliable driver on offense that it’s easy to forget that he didn’t even begin this season in the NHL.
“It just comes with getting more comfortable and more puck touches throughout the game and getting to play with good players,” Novak said. “The power play’s been playing pretty well; we’ve been getting some points there. So I think it’s just a combination of things that have gone pretty well, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Novak, who made his NHL debut on Oct. 19, 2021 vs. Los Angeles, recorded seven points (1g-6a) in 27 games with the Predators last season. Now, he’s cemented himself as a top-six center who provides consistent offensive production.
“He understands what he needs to do at this level,” Head Coach John Hynes said. “But I think he is also growing in confidence. Last year, he got a taste of the NHL; this year, he comes in and he feels like he belongs.”
In 25 games with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals this season, Novak produced at more than a point-per-game rate, notching 26 points (11g-15a) in 25 games from Oct. 15-Dec. 17. He made his 2022-23 season debut with the Predators on Dec. 19 vs. Edmonton and went on to record points in eight of his first 10 appearances with Nashville this season.
“He’s a good offensive player,” Hynes said. “He’s got great instincts, and he plays the game with speed and pace. I think that certainly [allows him] to be able to make more plays. We’re constantly talking about just maintaining his competitive level and that consistency in his game. But he’s played some real consistent hockey for us, and it’s good to see.”
Novak was selected to the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic roster, but did not participate in the event due to his recall. He has 24 points (10g-14a) in 32 games with Nashville since being recalled from Milwaukee. He recorded his first career multi-goal game on Feb. 18 vs. Florida (2g), followed it up with a season-high three points on Feb. 19 at Minnesota (1g-2a) and notched another three-point effort on Feb. 26 at Arizona (1g-2a).
“I think Tommy’s playing a fast game,” Hynes said. “He’s playing with a lot of pace. I think his decisions with the puck have been really good… We know his offensive mind works really well. But when he plays at a high pace, and he makes good decisions, he’s been really consistent in those areas, and that’s why he’s been able to generate the offense game in and game out.”
At 6-foot-1 and 179 pounds, Novak is one of the smaller forwards on Nashville’s roster. But what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in speed and hockey IQ.
“He’s got a lot of intangibles,” said veteran forward Matt Duchene, who frequently plays alongside Novak in a top-six role as well as on the power play. “He’s not a guy that’s probably going to dominate with size or speed and anything like that, but he’s incredibly smart. I think the thing he does the best that I see is he creates space and time when there is no space and time out there. The elite playmakers in this league do that.”
Added Duchene: “I love playing with him. You know that he’s going to get you the puck.”
Novak’s contributions have not gone unnoticed by the Predators front office, either. President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced on Feb. 8 that the team had signed the 25-year-old to a one-year, $800,000 contract for the 2023-24 season.
“You would never know by his demeanor because he is pretty stone faced and a pretty even-keeled guy,” Duchene said. “But he’s been a huge part of our success, especially since we made all the trades. He’s been a guy that has really stepped up for us.”
In a time of significant roster turnover and organizational change, Novak has been one true constant for the Predators this season. A steadying force both on and off the ice, he has become a key component of Nashville’s new-look core.
“He’s a guy that we need going forward,” Duchene said. “We need all hands on deck right now, especially offensively, and Novy’s a huge part of that.”