The first round of the NHL draft is not, traditionally, a place where patience is seen as a major virtue.
If a player is to be taken in the first 30 skaters, he'll already come with a deadline, whether or not teams will admit it. A hard wall by which the drafting team expects him to be an NHLer. "Projects" are rarely found this high up in the order anymore - and when they are taken it's seen as a brave move indeed - remember the shock and surprise when Calgary selected high-schooler Mark Jankowski 21st overall in 2012, for example?
Thomas Novak of the Waterloo Blackhawks, however, could be the next left-field first-round pick. The 18 year old centre from River Falls, WI is a commit to the University of Minnesota in the NCAA for 2015/16 at least, so it'll potentially be four years before he's even ready to play pro hockey...but as mentioned earlier on, he could be a player worth waiting for.
Currently playing for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL, Novak is a skilled centre with the ability to make plays out of nothing. His main assets are his vision, hockey sense and passing ability. He also plays an up-tempo game, putting pressure on the opposition in an attempt to force turnovers high up the ice. He's not the biggest at 6' and 181lbs, but plays with the drive and determination to overcome any perceived size disadvantages.
As mentioned, playmaking is Novak's main strength, but in close around the net his deceptively strong wrister can also be a weapon, as can his willingness to skate and find angles and positions that are often not the "traditional" setups for a player in his position. Don't take this as a knock, though...in a league where speed, skill and improvisation are becoming more important each year than systems and rigid play, he'll likely flourish, especially if the trend continues to accelerate the way it has the past few seasons.
The thing with Novak, though, is that up until now he's not really been...well, massively tested. That's no disrespect to high-school hockey or indeed the USHL, which is one of the top junior leagues in North America, but at both these levels he's almost looked TOO good, too far above anyone else at his level. He's also been helped by sharing a line with fellow 2015 draft prospect (and potential first rounder) Brock Boeser, who has outscored the rest of his team by nearly double the number of goals...Novak has been a part of setting a lot of those up, but it's easy for a playmaker to look good when there's a finisher of Boeser's calibre on the other end of his passes. He's managed to make the step up to other levels comfortably but the way he fits in on once of the NCAA's top college hockey programmes playing at elite NCAA level next year will likely be a bigger indicator of his potential than anything else up until now, which may may teams a little leery on using a high pick on him.
Novak's ranked 28th by NHL Central Scouting among North American skaters, which means that he's just barely scraping into the first round and will likely be a reach for most teams picking high - combine that with his long development path, his relative lack of size (for all the talk that size doesn't matter in today's NHL, it still does with a lot of scouts and by extension GMs.
The question here is...how far do teams want to reach in the first round? Down at the lower end of the top 30 it's a dogfight for picks and while the pressure is a little less on draftees than up at the top, teams still have their eyes on a deadline. That will only increase the higher up the draft Novak goes - and if he rises to the early twenties or even the teens then there will be some serious scrutiny both on the team that picks him and the player himself.
The question teams will be asking themselves when looking at Novak, at least in the first round, is "how lucky/confident in his potential do we feel?"
Just how brave are NHL GMs? The answer will directly impact where Novak gets taken this June.