Libor Hajek has opportunity to start with New York Rangers in camp

Libor Hajek is becoming an early story during New York Rangers training camp. While many anticipated Zac Jones being given first crack at partnering with Braden Schneider as the third pair left defenseman, it has been the older defender getting that opportunity.

“He came into camp in good shape,” head coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. “He’s getting a good opportunity to play on our team and get a lot of minutes.”

Honestly, the Rangers seem to love plot twists and this camp has been full of them.

It started with Sammy Blais being slotted as the first line right wing and followed by Vitali Kravtsov on the second unit. Over the summer many anticipated it would be Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko respectively.

So Hajek getting the first advantage to win the only starting job on defense should be no surprise.

Libor Hajek getting an opportunity Rangers

libor hajek
May 6, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Libor Hajek (25) during the first period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Hajek, 24, played in only 17 games last season and registered just 1 assist with a -10 rating. In his 94 game career, all with the Rangers, he’s picked up 3 goals and 11 points while averaging 15:10 per night.

He was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning and was part of the package Tampa sent back to the Rangers in the Ryan McDonagh blockbuster at the 2018 Trade Deadline.

The 6-2, 203 lbs defenseman has also played 94 games in the AHL mostly with the Hartford Wolf Pack (86). His minor league stats includes 2 goals and 11 points, with only one goal registered with Syracuse.

Coming to the Rangers, the scouting report on Hajek was good. He was considered a solid two-way defenseman that was strong in his own end with occasional offensive pop. So far, that’s been a struggle to realize.

Hajek still has competition

This summer, Hajek re-signed with the Rangers on a one-year, one-way deal worth $800,000 because according to the coach, he felt there was an opportunity here.

“He skates well and looks strong,” Gallant noted. “He looks confident and he tested really well. Everything is leading to him being a real good player on our team. We’ll see what happens because there’s a few guys battling for that spot.”

The other players Gallant is talking about are Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson.

Jones, 21, registered two assists in 12 games for the Rangers last season. He also led all Hartford Wolf Pack defenseman with 35 points in 52 games. For his brief NHL career, he’s played 22 games and recorded 6 helpers.

Robertson, 21, was selected in the second round of the 2019 Draft. At 6-4 and 201 lbs, he has the size to play in the NHL but has taken a little more time to develop than some of the other prospects. This past season, he honed his game at the professional level playing 65 contests with the Hartford Wolf Pack and garnering 11 points.

This is only the second day of on-ice scrimmages, but Hajek has to feel really good coming out of the gate to win a job.

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