The New York Rangers announced on Tuesday that they agreed to a one-year contract with restricted free agent defenseman Libor Hajek.
The 23-year-old blueliner appeared in 44 of 56 games last season, recording four points and a plus-2 rating while averaging 15:16 of ice time per game.
He’s expected to compete for a bottom-pairing role of a Rangers defense that should take another step forward in their development as they continue to get younger — and more talented.
Reigning Norris Trophy winner — awarded to the NHL’s best defenseman — Adam Fox will headline the Rangers’ top pairing with Ryan Lindgren, both of whom are 23 years old. Jacob Trouba, suddenly an elder statesman at 27, should feature alongside 21-year-old K’Andre Miller on the second pairing.
The third unit has some uncertainty that should receive some clarity during training camp beginning this month.
Veteran Patrik Nemeth was signed back in July to provide some more physicality and more of a veteran presence after spending most of his eight-year career with the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. He’s a favorite to make the third unit while highly-touted 21-year-old defenseman Nils Lundkvist is expected to make a major push for a spot on the big club this season.
Lundkvist was drafted 28th overall in 2018 and has spent a majority of the last three seasons playing professionally in Sweden for Lulea HF.
He’ll likely be Hajek’s largest source of competition in camp this month, though the Rangers’ first-round pick of the 2020 draft, Braden Schneider, will also have plenty of eyes on him after spending last year with the team’s AHL affiliate in Hartford. Regardless, the Rangers are putting together the kind of defensive depth that they’ve so sorely lacked over the past few seasons.