COLUMBUS, Ohio — Trapped in a seventh defenseman position for a second season, Libor Hajek understandably feels caught and like his NHL profession has considerably been placed on maintain.
It’s the 24-year-old’s angle in direction of his state of affairs, nevertheless, that the Rangers ought to be thankful for. But it is also what’s going to matter in the long term for Hajek after his one-year deal expires on the finish of this season.
Hajek was a wholesome scratch for the fifteenth recreation in a row Monday night time in opposition to the Blue Jackets. The final time he noticed recreation motion was greater than a month in the past on Dec. 12 in opposition to the Devils, when he performed in his sixth straight contest for the second time this season. Since then, Hajek has fallen again into the identical routine as final season: Practicing and watching video games from the press field.
“It’s powerful,” Hajek informed The Post after the Rangers’ extras skated Monday morning at Nationwide Arena. “I’ve to simply battle via, watch for my likelihood, simply work onerous. Focus on myself. Be a very good teammate. And hopefully, hopefully, sometime it turns and I’ll simply play.”
At the start of the season, Gerard Gallant and the Rangers appeared to have the perfect of intentions when it got here to Hajek, who re-signed with the membership in July for $800,000. The Rangers head coach even mentioned he did not need to topic Hajek to the identical state of affairs he was in when he performed simply 22 complete video games between the NHL and AHL in 2021-22.
And for the primary three months of this season, Gallant gave Hajek a shot.
Hajek performed in 16 of the Rangers’ first 30 video games whereas battling it out with Zac Jones for the final spot on protection. The forwards and backwards most likely did not assist both Hajek or Jones, nevertheless it was playing time that Hajek hadn’t seen since he skated in a career-high 44 video games in 2020-21. After Jones was despatched down and Ben Harpur was recalled from Hartford in early December, Hajek slipped again right into a depth position.
Harpur appears to be like and performs extra of the model that Gallant desires on his again finish. As a consequence, Hajek has tried to take advantage of his circumstances by maintaining his conditioning so he’s all the time prepared for the decision.
“I’m trying to study as a lot as I can,” Hajek mentioned. “Always observe 100%, you realize, even when I’m drained or one thing mentally. Just maintain going as a result of if I do not do this I simply harm myself. Just maintain watching different gamers, different D or our D. We have I believe the perfect D corps within the NHL, so simply watching them and the way they play.”
Whenever occasions get powerful, Hajek mentioned he thinks of all of the gamers in his residence nation of the Czech Republic who would do something to be in his place. That is the type of humility the Rangers ought to take into accounts once they make their subsequent transfer relating to Hajek.
There’s all the time a chance that Hajek might be packaged in a deal earlier than the March commerce deadline. If that does not work out, the Rangers may have to determine whether or not or not to lengthen a qualifying supply to Hajek, who can be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights on the finish of this season. Some kind of commerce, both on the deadline or within the offseason, could be the best-case situation for each events.
“It’s a enterprise,” Hajek mentioned. “I’m just a little man on this enterprise. I am unable to actually do something about it. So simply specializing in myself and hoping it is going to flip round.”