The New York Rangers continue to look at their prospects by calling up defenseman Libor Hajek last week.
Hajek was part of the deal that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning last February. The 21-year-old from Smerk, Czech Republic was a second-round pick, 37th overall, of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Prior to arriving in Hartford this season, Hajek played his junior hockey with the Saskatoon Blades and Regina Pats of the WHL.
His time in the AHL was less than impressive. Through Twitter, I spoke with Ricky Milliner, a blogger for the Hartford Wolf Pack. Since there have been so many different views of how Hajek has played this year, I thought it would be best to get some insight from someone who has seen him up close would help add some dimension to who the player is.
“Libor, in his first full season in the AHL, has struggled. That does not mean the Rangers should write him off. It’ll take patience to develop a prospect that was involved in a deal with Tampa involving a few former Rangers.
Offensively, he has potential, which has shown in juniors. This has not transpired to the AHL yet.” Millner went on to say. “Once he becomes comfortable in the league and feels confident, similar to Sean Day, I expect him to play much better. The stats seem daunting but does not tell the whole story. My favorite trait about him is his attitude and how he carries himself. Regardless of the situation on [the] ice, he brushes it off, tries to learn, and improve for the future. He does not let goals against bother him.”
Solid information about the prospect. You can follow Ricky and his excellent Hartford WolfPack coverage at @Milliner06.
His first NHL game action on Friday went well as the defenseman logged a little over 14 minutes. He was paired with Neal Pionk and enjoyed a great first impression from his teammates and coaches.
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The Rangers had Hajek lead the team to the ice in pregame warmups, then had him take the traditional lap around by himself.
“Loved his game. Loved it,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said to Greg Joyce of the New York Post. “He looks so poised, smart. Great skater. So many good things about his game. That was great to see him be out there, play a lot of minutes and do it really well.”
Rangers head coach had high praise of the rookie defenseman. He recognizes the situation the Rangers have been in on the Blueline. the addition of Hajek will give Quinn and the organization an early evaluation of what he can bring to the ice every day.
The head coach liked what he saw out of Hajek in Friday’s game, saying he had a really good night with confidence when he had the puck on his stick.
The Rangers have several drafts picks in the upcoming draft and need to figure out the right direction to go to get the team back to winning hockey games next season. The play of Hajek over the next 18 games, should he remain with the team for the rest of the season, will inevitably dictate how the team will how on the blueline next season.
Hajek is in a very positive position with the Blueshirts, especially while playing for a head coach that is proficient in helping players reach their potential. For now, it doesn’t matter how Hajek played in the AHL, but how good he can play with the Rangers in the NHL.
He is here now, playing on an original six team that is building for a future run to the playoffs. Fans wanted to see a young, fast and energetic team and that’s exactly what they have.
Patience will be a key factor in the development of this young defenceman. Hajek’s willingness to learn is a trait the will allow him to strive on a team desperate for a strong defenseman.
The Rangers will be buyers in the summer and with the eventual development of players like Libor Hajek, the Rangers rebuild process should turn into a playoff caliber hockey club as soon as next season.