DENVER – Rangers defenseman Libor Hajek, who made his 2021-22 season debut Sunday against Nashville, said in a way, his sitting out the first 26 games of the season – 21 as a healthy scratch – felt like an extended summer, where he worked on his game every day, but didn’t get to play.
"So, my summer ended last game,’’ Hajek said. "Finally, some games. So, it feels good.’’
Hajek began the season as the eighth defenseman, and with the Rangers’ defense corps being healthy so far this season, he wasn’t able to break into the lineup. He finally got to play Sunday, with Jarred Tinordi on a conditioning stint with AHL Hartford, and rookie Nils Lundkvist out with a non-COVID-19-related illness. Lundkvist’s status for Tuesday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena was uncertain. He missed the morning skate because of "maintenance,’’ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said.
Hajek conceded it was difficult to sit out all those games (he did go down to AHL Hartford for a conditioning stint, just to play a few games at the minor-league level), but, he said, "I’m professional, so, it’s what it is.’’
Hajek, who played in 44 of the Rangers’ 56 games last season, would have needed to be clear waivers in order to be sent to the minor leagues. Since the Rangers didn’t want to take the chance of him being claimed off waivers by another team, the team kept him with the parent club, though he had little chance of getting much ice time.
Hajek said the team didn’t really tell him anything about how he could expect to be used this season, but said he didn’t ask, either.
"I just do whatever I got from the coaches,’’ he said. "I was just waiting for my chance.’’
Goaltender Igor Shesterkin took some shots after the morning skate was over, but remained on injured reserve with a lower-body injury… With back-to-back games Tuesday in Colorado and Wednesday in Arizona against the Coyotes, Gallant declined to say if he intended to split the games between the two goalies on the roster, Alexandar Georgiev and Keith Kinkaid, or possibly have one goalie start both games. Georgiev, who has started four of the five games since Shesterkin went on IR, was expected to start Tuesday night.