JANESVILLE, WI – Janesville Jets forward Jakov Novak was selected 188th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 7th Round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft this afternoon. Novak becomes the second player in Jets history to be picked in the NHL Draft.
“Honestly, I’m at a loss for words,” said Novak in a phone interview. “I’m super excited and can’t wait to get things going. Training camp starts Monday.”
The draft was held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, just a 20-minute drive from the NAHL’s league offices in Frisco.
The new Senators prospect kept tabs on the unfolding events today from his Windsor, Ontario, home, but said he tried to stay busy.
“I went out this morning to work out and got on the ice, shooting for a goalie session later,” Novak said. “I went out for breakfast with my sister, came home, and checked the computer now and then. One time I came back to it and saw my name. I knew it wasn’t going to define who I am if I didn’t get drafted, but I’m really happy that I did.”
Novak, 19, finished his NAHL career this year in historic fashion, breaking Jets records for single-season points (73), goals (32), and penalty minutes (131). His offensive production won him the league scoring title and Most Valuable Player Award, both firsts in Jets history.
“From day one, Jakov worked hard to improve his overall game,” said Gary Shuchuk, Jets head coach and general manager. “He learned to become a complete hockey player by playing all three zones better. He worked hard at practice, and on his own when no one was watching, bettering his skills.”
The Jets selected Novak eighth overall in the 2016 NAHL Draft. He had impressed at prep school, where he scored 37 goals and added 21 assists in a 40-game season for New Hampton School in New Hampshire. As a rookie with the Jets, Novak tallied 28 points in 52 regular season games, but still found himself adjusting to the learning curve of junior hockey.
“I got a ton of help from the veterans on that team,” Novak said. “They helped me grow a lot. Coach [Joe] Dibble put me in some situations I wasn’t used to, which I really thank him for because it made me better.”
Dibble, Novak’s first junior hockey head coach, saw raw potential in the big forward.
“The first time I met Jakov I knew he was a pro,” said Dibble. “The way he plays hockey, the way he takes care of himself and dedicates himself to getting better every day. You don’t see that in many players his age. Even as a rookie I was very impressed with how he carried himself on and off the ice, and how he improved not even month to month or game to game, but practice to practice. Every hour of every day he’s thinking about getting better, and he’s not done yet. Ottawa has themselves one hell of a prospect.”
Near the halfway point of his rookie season, the winger announced his Division I commitment to Bentley University, where he will play next season along former Jet captain Drew Callin. Novak cited the school’s reputable business program as one of the most attractive features. The program ranked #10 in the United States by Bloomberg BusinessWeek in April 2016, ahead of both Cornell and Penn.
“When I was at prep school, I was thinking always and only hockey,” admitted Novak. “My academic advisor told me to apply to schools in case hockey didn’t work. She told me to find my ‘broken leg school.’ That’s when I started realizing hockey isn’t everything, that I needed strong academics and needed to be a good well-rounded person. When I started looking at schools and schools were looking at me, I really wanted to think about my future. For me, that’s getting into business. When I went to Bentley, the campus and the business program were so good I couldn’t say ‘no.’ I’m super stoked to go there next year and to get things going.”
Novak took to the grindstone in the 2017 offseason, and returned to Janesville last August with a new head coach, a new assistant coach, and the alternate captain’s “A” embroidered on his sweater. It was immediately evident that he had turned the proverbial corner. He was moved to center, where he shouldered more responsibility. Novak blossomed as a pivot, dominating opposing defenses and goaltenders with a coach’s dream blend of size, speed, skill, and smarts.
“My second year of juniors I knew that I needed to be that veteran guy,” Novak said. “I tried to bring to the team what I thought our identity should be. I wanted to be a go-to guy when we needed to get going or needed a goal or to close out a game. I think this year I’ve evolved my offensive side and grown into a complete player.”
He’s right. By February, he had totaled 25 goals and 56 points in just 40 games, attracting serious attention from NHL scouts, who picked him to skate for the NAHL Selects White team at the 2018 Top Prospects Tournament in Plymouth, Michigan. On a line with teammate Sam Renlund, Novak registered four points in two games in front of hundreds of scouts, dozens from NHL clubs. Two months later, the NHL’s Central Scouting department released its final prospect rankings, and added Novak’s name to the list.
“Obviously there’s a lot of phone calls, a lot of stuff going on, but honestly I’ve just tried to think about playing my best and being my best,” said Novak of the process leading up to the draft. “I know that when I’m at my best, I’m at that [NHL] caliber. If I could play at my best, I’d get the attention I’d need to be drafted.”
Two seasons ago, another Canadian, Mississauga goaltender Jack LaFontaine, became the first Jets player to be selected in the NHL Draft when the Carolina Hurricanes picked him in the third round, 75th overall in June of 2016. Now with Novak’s selection, the Jets join elite NAHL company. Only Janesville, Corpus Christi, and Lone Star have seen multiple NHL Draft picks directly from their roster since the Jets were born in 2009.
“This is a huge day for the Jets,” said Shuchuk. “We’ve become an organization who can provide the coaching and the opportunity young players need to get better, to get noticed by NHL clubs, and ultimately to get drafted. Janesville has become a place where players want to come and play because they know they’ll get better on and off the ice.”
The Jets’ latest NHL pick agrees.
“I’m so proud to have been a Jet,” said Novak. “The number one thing I’ll remember here are the people and the community of Janesville. It’s so electric at games on Friday and Saturday nights that I could never forget those atmospheres. I’ve watched a ton of games in a ton of rinks, and nobody has that home crowd that we have.
“I’ll also remember being out in the community,” he continued. “When we go out on appearances or to help out at an event, everyone is always so thankful for our help and we definitely feel that love. I’ll miss that. Hopefully I’m able to find that at Bentley, too, because Janesville taught me how much that meant to me.”