The New York Rangers are sending Libor Hajek on the shuttle to the Hartford Wolf Pack to shake off the rust.
Hajek, who missed 16 games with a knee injury, returned to the Rangers lineup on Jan. 11. He logged 15:05 of ice time that day against the St. Louis Blues and definitely looked rusty. He was one the Rangers’ worst players that night. He did not play Monday night against the New York Islanders.
Sending Hajek down makes perfect sense. It is only natural that a player who has missed over a month would be rusty and needs some time to regain his form.
Hajek was a promising defensive prospect who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft. The Rangers acquired him as part of the trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay in 2018.
Hajek, 21, had a high ceiling and has been held in high regard. He was first called up last year and showed some potential, but seems to have regressed. The young left-handed defenseman has yet to live up to expectation, but the Rangers have not and should not give up on him just yet.
This is especially due to the fact that the Rangers’ defensive coach Lindy Ruff is problematic, and the entire defense is struggling.
The Rangers have not made a corresponding move and they most likely will not, even though they probably should give prospects Joey Keane and Yegor Rykov a look.
It seems they will proceed with the defensemen they have and will just move Brendan Smith back to the defense if needed. Hajek should benefit from this temporary demotion and will hopefully be able to shake off the rust during his time in Hartford.