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Libor Hajek in; Zac Jones out tonight

Hajek enters the lineup

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

Defenseman Zac Jones is coming out of the lineup for Libor Hajek tonight in the New York Rangers contest against the Winnipeg Jets. This will be Hajek’s first game of the 2022-23 season after he entered the campaign as the Rangers’ seventh defenseman.

Hajek, 24, has 94 GP of NHL experience and has struggled to prove he can play at the NHL level since he joined the Rangers as part of the return in the trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning. To be blunt, he’s been one of the worst players at his position over the last few seasons but tonight he’ll have another opportunity to prove he can make it in the NHL.

Jones, 21, was in the lineup for the Rangers first two games. He played 12 games with the Rangers in 2021-22. He skated 14:22 TOI against the Wild and took a minor penalty in addition to finishing as a -1 in the team’s entertaining 7-3 win over Minnesota. In a two-game sample size, he has the worst Rel xGF% on the blue line and the worst Rel SCF%, per Natural Stat Trick. But it can’t be stressed enough that this is a two-game sample size.

Of course, this is something to keep an eye on — head coach Gerard Gallant going with Hajek in a game after Jones seemed to struggle. This might just be a learning moment for Hajek and Gallant giving Hajek a kick at the ball at the top of a fresh season. We’ll see how he does tonight on the third pair against Winnipeg.