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Preseason Reflections: Haley, McKegg, and Hajek

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Two veteran forwards and a rookie defender make the roster

New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Jeff Gorton’s final cuts from the New York Rangers training camp roster Monday left many surprised. Youngsters Vitali Kravtsov and Filip Chytil were both assigned to Hartford, while veteran forwards Greg McKegg and Micheal Haley remained with the club. Furthermore, the Rangers elected to release Joe Morrow from his PTO and move ahead with both Libor Hajek and Brendan Smith as the sixth and seventh defensemen.

Haley, of course, was with the Rangers on a PTO, but Rick Carpiniello reported yesterday that the Rangers will sign him.

Micheal Haley

Expectations were low for Haley, 33, when he joined the Rangers on a PTO. He had a brief stint with the organization between 2012-14 where he appeared in just nine regular season games and a pair of playoff games. Since then applied his trade as a veteran 13th forward for the Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks, becoming the only player over the last four NHL seasons to have more than 200 penalty minutes in a single season.

However, the underdog tough guy managed to make a big impression in training camp.

Haley scored an easy goal on Sept. 18 that was created by Greg McKegg, but that isn’t why he earned a contract. He registered five hits, took two minor penalties, and dropped the gloves three times during the exhibition season, including bouts with Brian Baddock of the New Jersey Devils on Sept. 18, Chris Stewart of the Philadelphia Flyers on Sept. 21, and Ross Johnston of the New York Islanders on Sept. 28. Haley gave up four inches to Baddock; three to Stewart; and half a foot to Johnston.

Say what you will about Haley and New York’s decision to offer him a contract, but he did show a hell of a lot of heart, especially in his tilt against Johnston.

Thanks to Haley’s willingness to earn an NHL roster spot the hard way, the Rangers had the most team fighting majors since the bloody 2007 preseason, which featured 17 bare-knuckle boxing matches on the ice.

Haley averaged 7:39 TOI in four preseason contestsskated in four games in the preseason, averaging 7:39 TOI/GP. In that exceptionally small sample size, he was on the ice for one Rangers goal and two goals against at even strength.

Greg McKegg

The Rangers signed McKegg to a one-year, $750k deal on July 1. He had plenty of competition in training camp for a spot on the big club on the fourth line and/or as the team’s 13th forward, but he managed to outlast Phil Di Giuseppe, Vinni Lettieri, and Boo Nieves.

In the preseason, McKegg looked very much like the heart-and-soul player that drew a lot of eyeballs for his play in the 2019 Playoffs with the Carolina Hurricanes. He averaged 15:22 TOI/GP in three preseason appearances and was dominant on the faceoff dot (66.7 FO%). McKegg stayed out of the box and earned a primary assist on Haley’s goal against the Devils on Sept. 18.

McKegg’s motor, the perception of his two-way play, and his acumen at draws is likely what earned him his roster spot. He scored six goals in 41 regular season games with the Hurricanes last year as a result of a 22.2 shooting percentage, and has 24 points in 132 career NHL games while winning 49.4 percent of faceoffs.

Libor Hajek

The Rangers gave Morrow a good look in the two games that the veteran defenseman played. Morrow averaged 18:39 per game and led the team in ice time Sept. 20 against the Devils. Hajek, on the other hand, averaged 19:36 in his three preseason appearances.

The 21-year-old Czech defenseman was on the ice for two goals for and zero against at even strength in the preseason. Hajek skated primarily with fellow rookie defenseman Adam Fox, but also saw 17:01 of even strength ice time with Jacob Trouba as his partner. Although Hajek managed just three shots on net and failed to pick up a point in the preseason — Morrow had a primary assist — he did pass the eye test.

Of course, Hajek preseason performance was buoyed by the big impression that he made in the five games he played with the Rangers last season before suffering an injury. With the versatile Smith also on the roster, Hajek could see substantial time on one of the Rangers’ bottom-two defensive pairs early in the season.

All data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com.