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Rookie Libor Hajek returns to Rangers' lineup, replaces injured Marc Staal

Jonathan Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights and

Jonathan Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights and Libor Hajek of the New York Rangers collide during the third period at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 2, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

ST. LOUIS — Marc Staal was out of Saturday's lineup with what the team announced via Twitter was an upper-body injury. He was replaced by rookie Libor Hajek, who had missed 16 games with a sprained right knee but who had been skating with the team for the past two weeks.

“He's ready,’’ coach David Quinn said of Hajek, who was injured in a game in Columbus Dec. 5. “He was ready to play. I thought after the first full practice he had he was ready.’’

Hajek went with the team on its trip to Toronto and Western Canada and first skated with the team in a red, no-contact jersey, then eventually began wearing a regular jersey, signifying he was ready for contact. Initially, Quinn had thought it likely that Hajek might need to play a few minor league games for Hartford first, before he could return to action with the Rangers. But Staal’s injury affected that plan.

After the optional morning skate, Hajek — who is wearing a brace on his knee — had declared himself ready to go.

“I feel really good,’’ Hajek said. “The knee brace also feels really good. I’ve gotten used to it, and I think the knee feels strong again.’’

Hajek played in 27 games, registering five assists and 12 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of minus-2 before he was injured. At the time he was injured, he might have been on the verge of exiting the lineup, as Staal, who had been out after ankle surgery, was ready to return. Staal stepped in to play the game after Hajek was injured.

“I liked his game,’’ Quinn said of Hajek. “He's a guy that skates well, (and) when he's on his game, he gets us out of our end, closes the gap, defends well. We're confident.’’

Blue notes

LW Micheal Haley also returned to the lineup, replacing Steven Fogarty, who was scratched for the first time since he was called up Dec. 28 to replace the injured Brendan Lemieux.

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