|Keith Hershmiller Photography|
New York Rangers prospect Libor Hajek’s Juniors hockey coach believes he is close to taking the next step and becoming a player in the NHL.
The defenseman was acquired by the New York Rangers in the blockbuster trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning. If the talk about the skill Hajek has is real, the Rangers might have a young star about to see the bright lights on Broadway.
Hajek plays for the Regina Pats of the junior Western Hockey League and his head coach, John Paddock has plenty of praise for his star defenseman.
“He’s pretty close to playing in the NHL right now,” Paddock said.
John Paddock revealed this juicy nugget to Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News. The head coach also doesn’t think this is putting too much pressure on the defenseman.
“No. I think he’s real close,” Paddock said. “That’s not to put pressure on him. I think he’s a good player.”
Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton talked about when he thinks Hajek will reach the NHL level.
“They played in the World Juniors, they’re a year further out of their draft. That was appealing in this deal. It’s a tough question to ask,” Gorton said. “I don’t really know what our team’s gonna look like, but there’s certainly an opportunity here for them to come in and show well and stay if that’s the case. If not, we’re not gonna rush a player just because we have new players. We don’t have to rush them. I don’t feel that pressure.”
Hajek was taken by surprise when he found out he was part of the trade that sent him to the Rangers. To hear that the New York hockey club had looked at him for a while made the news of the trade easier to handle.
“I was kind of shocked,” Hajek said Friday from Calgary, where the Pats were playing Saturday after a 10-hour drive. “I just came from practice and see that on my phone. I wasn’t expecting that so that was a big shock, but now that I heard everything that they want me and really like me, it’s nice to hear that. It’s exciting to be in this position, so I will work hard and do my best.”
In 52 WHL games this season split between Regina and the Saskatoon Blades, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hajek has 11 goals and 24 assists.
John Paddock has tremendous confidence in his player saying, “There isn’t anything he can’t do.”
The Rangers prospect is excited to be part of the organization.
“They really like me, they really want me,” Hajek said. “I hope I will do good.”
The future Rangers blueline could look like Hajek skating alongside Brady Skjei, Neal Pionk or John Gilmour. Jeff Gorton’s rebuilding plan seems to already be shaping out nicely.