By constantly changing his immediate surroundings, Albany Devils rookie Max Novak has found enough consistency to remain in the lineup for the last three weeks.
Noted by his coach as a “cerebral” player, Novak has shown he’s comfortable on any of the Devils’ lines, even making an appearance on the checking line with captain Rod Pelley and enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.
His ability to fit on any line has been a plus, but also, the Union College graduate has become more valuable by picking up his pace, keeping his feet moving and being part of developing plays instead of becoming static and merely reacting to them.
“Sometimes I tend to sit back and try to see the play develop, and I’m not really moving my feet,” Novak said. “Recently, I’ve been doing a little bit of both, getting my feet moving.”
The Devils host Syracuse tonight at 7, then play at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday night at 7:05.
Novak had played only occasionally through the early part of the season, but he has been in the lineup each of the last six games. Albany coach Rick Kowalsky said some nights, he just wanted a different type of player in the lineup, some nights he just went with another guy — not because Novak was playing poorly, but maybe because the other guy was in good form.
Recently, there have been some injuries at forward, and Novak’s play has made it hard to take him out of the lineup.
When he takes the ice at the Times Union Center for the last time until after Christmas, Novak will center Mike Sislo and Matt Lorito. Sislo and Lorito have, with any third linemate, been the most productive line for the Devils all season.
“They play a fast game, and they can make plays at that pace,” Kowalsky said. “They read off each other well, no matter who is first on the forecheck or if they’re back in the defensive zone. They don’t worry about positions, it’s just first, second, third guy [into the zone]. When they get the puck, they’re very good 1-on-1, and Max is another guy who can play that game.”
Novak also has earned playing time on the penalty kill and power play. He earned his first professional goal on the power play in last Saturday’s win over Rochester, then scored again the following night against Syracuse.
The goals come just as some fellow Union alums are potting their firsts in the NHL. Shayne Gostisbehere netted his first NHL goal Nov. 17 for the Philadelphia Flyers, following it up with a couple recent game-winners. Daniel Carr scored his first NHL goal on his first shift with the Montreal Canadiens the same night Novak got his first in the AHL with Albany.
Novak said Union alumni often keep in touch through the season, and he received a number of texts from former teammates, including Gostisbehere and Daniel Ciampini (who is with the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs) last Saturday to congratulate him.
“It’s good to see Union guys making an impact — especially at the NHL level — [Josh] Jooris, [Jeremy] Welsh had a couple games, then Gostisbehere and Carr recently,” Novak said. “It’s great to see guys playing at the next level.”
The spot on the Sislo-Lorito line opened up when rookie centerman Joe Blandisi was recalled by New Jersey on Thursday. Blandisi has proven himself at the AHL level, playing on a line that thrives at a high pace of play.
Sislo believes Novak will be able to step in and, with the increased pace he has adopted in the last month, fit right in.
“I think he’s a very smart player, can pass the puck really well, has a great touch around the net,” Sislo said. “As a line, I think our strength is speed and moving our feet. When we’re all doing that, having a guy like that able to make plays, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
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