by Patrick Williams
No charter flight awaited to whisk Ottawa Senators defenseman Filip Novak back to the nation’s capital and to the NHL’s good life after the Philadelphia Flyers flattened Novak’s Sens by a 6-3 count Saturday night at the Wachovia Center.
No, with Ottawa off until Tuesday night when New Jersey comes calling at Scotiabank Place, Novak instead received a ticket back to the AHL and to the Binghamton Senators, who will gladly welcome back the services of their top defenseman.
With Anton Volchenkov and Zdeno Chara day-to-day, Ottawa could afford to return Novak to Binghamton.
Now Novak, whose eight goals and 44 assists place him fifth among AHL defensemen in scoring this season, will head back to the AHL, where he should help lend some juice to Binghamton’s late-season push to catch the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the last East Division playoff spot.
So even though Binghamton awaited, Novak walked out of the Ottawa dressing room, equipment bag slung over his right shoulder and a taped batch of sticks in his left hand, finally able to have at least temporarily called himself an NHL defenseman after a weird odyssey that has stretched almost six years.
Once a top prospect, Novak, a Czech product, began this season with the very real possibility that he might drift off to suspect status. But still only 23 years old, the very likable Novak has instead remade himself into a legitimate NHL prospect.
While there very well may end up being no long-term room in Ottawa, Novak certainly could be worth taking a flyer on for some other NHL organization. This week’s recall to the NHL at least shows that Novak does not look out of place in the NHL.
"It’s good to know that I can play at this level," Novak admitted. "It’s only two games, so you can’t put anything on that, but I definitely feel good that I got the call."
The New York Rangers made Novak a second-round pick back in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft after Novak’s rookie WHL season in Regina. The Rangers then flipped Novak over to the Florida Panthers in March 2002 in the Pavel Bure deal.
It was within the Florida organization that Novak’s progress slowed considerably. A solid AHL rookie year in 2002-03 in which he played in the 2003 AHL All-Star Classic and was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team then proceeded to give way to two bad seasons.
An ankle injury that Novak suffered in training camp with Florida in September 2003 ended up costing Novak that entire season.
When Novak returned to what was a struggling team last season in San Antonio, little went right, and with the Panthers heading into a dual affiliation situation this season, there was not a whole lot of reason for optimism for the path that Novak’s career appeared to be taking.
But fortunately for Novak, the Panthers dished Novak off to Ottawa last October for nothing more than future considerations.
For all of Binghamton’s ups and downs this season, the move out of Florida was the first step in reviving Novak’s NHL possibilities.
Although Binghamton harbors playoff hopes now, the AHL Senators were a mess at season’s start and leaned on Novak heavily to help fortify an attack that badly needed his presence.
And Novak has since brought enough of that presence to earn him a spot with the PlanetUSA team at the 2006 AHL All-Star Classic in Winnipeg. Novak can anchor an AHL defense, and brings enough jam to help survive the crash-and-bang AHL game. Only 6 feet and 203 pounds, Novak collected a robust 125 penalty minutes in his final WHL season and this season has managed to earn himself an AHL suspension earlier this month for a run-in with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Dennis Bonvie.
So when Volchenkov and Chara went out, Novak was Ottawa’s first recall option, and one that Ottawa management took.
After managing just 5:59 of ice time in Friday night’s 3-1 win in Buffalo, Novak partnered with Christoph Schubert against the Flyers and logged a respectable 11:04 of ice time.
"I was so excited that I got the call. The first game, I was holding the stick a little too tight. I was still a little nervous today, but I felt better tonight."
By Monday night, Novak was on his way back to Ottawa, where the Senators host the Devils tonight.
Patrick Williams covers the AHL for theahl.com and SLAM! Sports