The Rangers announced their 2021 opening night roster and taxi squad with a tweet on Tuesday. There was little surprise as to who made the cut. However, a notable addition to the main roster is rookie K’Andre Miller. He made the cut while the organization assigned third-year defenseman Libor Hajek to the taxi squad, bringing up questions about his future.
Rough Road in New York
The hype around Hajek has certainly died down since the Rangers acquired him in the trade that sent Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay. The young defenseman showed promise in his first games for the Blueshirts but suffered a separated shoulder and missed significant time. This is not the only injury Hajek suffered in his tenure with New York. He suffered a knee sprain in December 2019 that kept him off the ice for a month.
When Hajek was on the Rangers’ roster, his play left a lot to be desired. He played in just 28 games in the 2019-20 season, the most amount of games in his Rangers career. In those 28 games, Hajek earned just 5 assists and a -4 rating.
In advanced statistics, Hajek had a CF% of 38.2 last season, which was -7 relative to the rest of the Rangers roster. His partnership with Jacob Trouba was largely unsuccessful, and his other pairings weren’t much better.
Injury history and inconsistent play take him out of favor when compared to a young, rising rookie like K’Andre Miller. Miller’s play in camp impressed head coach David Quinn and Miller ended camp paired up with Trouba in scrimmages. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see that pair play together on opening night.
This is without even mentioning the rest of the defensemen the Rangers have in the pipeline.
Pressure From the Pipeline
Another young defenseman, Matthew Robertson, made the Rangers’ taxi squad this season. Robertson is coming off an impressive season with the Edmonton Oil Kings, earning 47 points in 60 games and a +5 rating. At 6’4”, 201lbs, he is also bigger than Hajek. Size is always a valuable asset in defensemen.
The Rangers also have the likes of Nils Lundkvist, Braden Schneider, Zachary Jones, Tarmo Reunanen, and Yegor Rykov in the prospect system. That is a lot of young, promising talent competing for a few NHL roster positions.
Libor Hajek is a pending RFA this summer, bringing even more questions about his future into focus. His entry-level contract is set to expire. The Rangers are clearly keeping their options open by building up the defense prospect pipeline. Hajek’s fate in New York may not be sealed. However, it is evident that it will be an uphill battle if he wants to be an NHL mainstay with this team.