Is Libor Hajek Ready For NHL?

Hartford Wolf Pack

The 21-year-old defenseman completed his first professional season in the organization. Ranger fans had high hopes for the prospect, considering he was a big piece of the trade when Ryan McDonagh was dealt to Tampa. His journey had a brief stint in New York after struggling in Hartford for a majority of the season but was unable to finish the season due to injury.

It’s been the tale of two tapes for Libor Hajek, who has drawn some mixed reactions from fans and writers. Some say he is not performing up to expectations, while others say he performed well in his five games with New York. Were expectations too high for the young prospect? Is five games enough to justify his readiness for the NHL?

I wrote about his development earlier in the season here.

Libor Hajek will make mistakes. He has to go through situations to get the experience. The issue with his development is he struggled mightily on the Hartford blue line with subpar partners. Despite the lack of success on the stat sheet, and posting a -26, the Rangers saw potential in him.

Then he skates in five games with New York, and had a very good showing. He was well positioned, earned ice time with David Quinn, scored his first NHL goal, and was responsible for holding down the left side of the blue line. The injury he suffered while with the Rangers concluded his rookie year in the organization. We haven’t seen enough of Hajek in the NHL to truly argue where he should end up next season. The Rangers must let the prospect succeed regardless of where he plays. He has to play nightly and learn from players, especially veterans, who know what it takes to win. That consistency relates to the roster in Hartford. As we’ve seen, developing in a losing culture can become ugly.

The Rangers will have to take a good, hard look at Libor Hajek before deciding his fate for the upcoming season. The competition is tough with the influx of blue line prospects.

Libor Hajek will have a few things going for him. He’s getting stronger mentally, maintaining a consistency of learning from mistakes and not having it bother him, and practicing or playing hard despite the score. In fact, he was given a larger role as the season progressed in Hartford. Those traits are ideal to have in a young prospect. Things that go against him are his lack of offense and ability to effectively utilize his body. Those negatives can be turned into positives if he works on them. We have to be patient on the offensive aspect of his game, considering he is a two-way player.

In Hartford, Libor Hajek developed over the season. It may not show in the stat sheet, but he is noticeable when he’s on the ice. Then in New York, he took big strides and adjusted to the NHL quickly. The prospect will have to battle hard in training camp if he wants a spot next season with New York. If he ends up in Hartford, that would be acceptable as well. The Rangers can’t rush development on players, especially expected long-term prospects. Hartford can give additional roles to Libor Hajek to sharpen his skills more.

The Rangers front office must put together a coaching staff that wants to win and develop prospects thoroughly. Once they do, Libor Hajek will develop better and gain additional confidence. Let the kids win and develop.

Why is winning in the AHL so important? Check out this quote by the GM of the Chicago Wolves. This is why I continually believe the Rangers must give Hartford a great, well-rounded roster that can win.

“If you want your players to eventually go deep in the playoffs at the NHL level, they’re well-served to experience that two-month grind in the AHL first.”

Winning allows players such as Libor Hajek to excel. It allows him to experience the playoffs at the AHL level. It allows prospects to experience the grind before the tougher grind in the NHL.

The question of uncertainty next season relies on the performance of Libor Hajek in training camp, along with what the organization decides to do with free agents Fredrik Claesson, Anthony DeAngelo, and Neal Pionk.

Did the five games last season help him become noticeable by Rangers brass? Do they think he needs more seasoning in the AHL? Time will tell, but Hajek is certainly on the right track.