Dare we say, Libor Hajek has been fine this year?
On a scale of one to ten on “things we didn’t see coming,” Libor Hajek playing significant minutes and playing them somewhat competently would have been in the 9-10 range. But Hajek has been fine this year, so far, and has filled in pretty well for Ryan Lindgren over the past week. It’s not something that was expected, but it is certainly a welcomed surprise.
Note: Could not write a recap for the 8-2 blowout last night. I assume everyone is happy.
To say that Hajek had been bad in his previous three seasons with the Rangers would be an understatement. He was simply outclassed at the NHL level. It didn’t help that he was the centerpiece of the Ryan McDonagh trade, which not only put him in a bad situation with the fans almost immediately (to no fault of his own), it led to the Rangers rushing him to the NHL to Hajek’s detriment.
Naturally, Hajek’s results from 2019-2022 were not only bad, but among some of the worst in the league on defense. It’s really hard to argue that Hajek was anything less than a major detriment and liability on the ice until this season. Thus, entering the season with him as the 7D was questionable at best. But so far, Hajek has been fine.
Currently, Hajek is averaging a shade under 14 minutes a game. He visibly looks better, and we can prove that by simply noting the decrease in fan frustration while he’s on the ice. So far, his xG% is 52.45, with pretty good xGF/60 (2.64) and xGA/60 (2.39) splits. You really can’t ask more of your 7D. In that role, these numbers are, quite frankly, better than expected.
Hajek is still a net-negative in terms of quantity of shot attempts, with a CF/60 of 54.36 versus a CA/60 of 59.37, for a CF% of 47.80. But in terms of improvement, that is close to 10 percentage points better than his best season from the last three years. His xGF% is 12 percentage points better. Again, Hajek has been fine.
While the narrative around Hajek has been negative, and rightfully so, he’s starting to write his own narrative. It’s limited minutes for sure, and there’s still room for him to fall off a cliff, so to speak. But for now, Hajek has been fine, and it benefits the Rangers significantly if he is. That’s one less draft pick to throw away at the deadline for a depth defenseman, if Hajek keeps this up.