Libor Hajek entered the league during the 2018-19 season where he appeared in five games with the New York Rangers, and registered his first career NHL goal in impressive fashion. Hajek’s hot start on Broadway would be extremely short-lived, however, after a separated shoulder sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Fast forwarding ahead to the 2019-20 season, there was high praise for Hajek after his impressive start the previous year and the hope was that he would carry over some of that success. Hajek did indeed earn his spot on the opening night roster, but the story that followed wasn’t exactly something to write home about.
I almost feel bad for piling on Hajek at this point, but there’s simply no other way to put it aside from reading between the lines. Statistically, Hajek was far and away the worst defender on the Rangers last season, and he only appeared in 28 games. Even though the Rangers in general were poor defensively, teams essentially had free reign in front of the net whenever Hajek was on the ice.
With Hajek struggling to find any sort of consistency in his game, head coach David Quinn rotated the defensemen around the lineup in hopes of finding a fit. Hajek initially opened the year with Adam Fox on the third pairing, but was quickly separated and stapled alongside Jacob Trouba. Unfortunately, that final change wound up being counterproductive. Thrusting Hajek into first-pairing minutes only exposed his defensive deficiencies even more than before.
Overall, it wasn’t a productive season at all for Hajek, and to make matters worse, a knee sprain sidelined him for an additional three-to-four weeks. Upon returning, the Rangers returned Hajek to the Hartford Wolf Pack on a conditioning stint, where he would reside for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Final Grade: Incomplete
Banter Consensus: D
Another injury-shortened season for Hajek, followed by a permanent demotion isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the young defender at this point in his career. Even though his time in New York this past season was about as bad as it could get, a 28-game sample size just wasn’t enough for me to properly place a grade on the 22-year old. Several other Banter contributors weighed in on Hajek, and the resulting grade was a resounding ‘D’.
That being said, we’re now entering Hajek’s third straight year in the organization, and there still isn’t a clear, definitive direction for the Czech native. With the Rangers’ defense as a whole still partially up in the air, it goes without saying that 2020-21 is a make or break year for Hajek. Hajek has proven that he is capable of making the team out of training camp, but he certainly has a lot of ground to make up in order to be a consistent contributor on the varsity roster.