Libor Hajek’s tenure with the New York Rangers has been somewhat disappointing for both Ranger fans and himself. Shipped in along with Brett Howden and Vlad Namestnikov in the Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller trade, Hajek has spent time between the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers AHL affiliate, and the Blueshirts themselves.
With such a promising youth movement taking place, Hajek may see himself replaced with 20-year-old Zac Jones in the near future. The arrival of the UMass defenseman may see the quick end to Libor’s career as a Ranger. And as a significant acquisition within the past few years, it would be a disappointing end to a stint that never really picked up momentum.
Hajek’s initial start with the Rangers was very promising. In his first few games, he was one of the team’s most reliable defensemen. While in the defensive zone, Hajek made several plays both with his stick and his body that turned the heads of the Ranger faithful.
An injury to Hajek’s midsection brought his open stretch to a screeching halt. He finished the 2018-19 campaign with a goal and a plus-1 rating. While those aren’t groundbreaking numbers, his defensive capabilities were that of a veteran blueliner, and things looked like they could only go up from there.
The 2019-20 season saw little progress made by Hajek. In only 28 games with the Rangers, Libor mustered just five assists, no goals and a minus-4 rating. His defense wasn’t anything to write home about, and the time split between Hartford and New York left Ranger fans wanting more.
Thus far during the 2020-21 campaign, Hajek has just three points in 34 games. It’s by far his least productive season, and his defensive capabilities are not being relied upon at all. This season, Hajek has averaged fewer defensive zone starts in all situations than during either of the last two seasons.
This is a clear indication that head coach David Quinn doesn’t feel too comfortable relying on Hajek to safely clear the defensive zone and possibly advance the puck up the ice.
As of late, Hajek has been standing out in the Rangers defense core, and not in a good way. Defensive lapses, turnovers, and overall disappointing play have left fans wondering how he is still in the lineup, especially with so many talented young defensemen in the system. Well, as we all know it is best to not rush young defensemen into the league, especially while the Rangers are (surprisingly) in the midst of a playoff race in the East Division.
Jacob Trouba left the last game with what looked like a potential head injury. Without knowing the severity of the injury, Hajek may see some extended time in the lineup. Zac Jones, who is very highly touted by college hockey fans as well as NHL scouts, will more than likely slot into the bottom pair within the next few games.
But Jones subbing in for an injured Trouba does not necessarily mean that Hajek is in the clear. If Quinn believes that Tarmo Reunanen is a better option down the final stretch than Hajek, we could possibly be looking at defensive pairings of Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller-Reunanen, and Jones-Smith.
It is also a very real possibility that Hajek ends up being selected by the incoming 32nd NHL franchise, the Seattle Kraken, in the upcoming expansion draft. A fresh start with a new team may be exactly what Hajek needs to find his footing. And while that has the possibility to be a positive for him, I’m sure the Rangers wish they could get something in return for him, especially since they essentially paid a fee of Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to get him.
Junior writer covering the New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers.