Rangers defenseman Libor Hajek skates during training camp in Greenburgh,...

Rangers defenseman Libor Hajek skates during training camp in Greenburgh, N.Y., on Friday. Credit: Errol Anderson

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — At the end of a long, frustrating season for him, Libor Hajek went home to the Czech Republic this summer and turned his phone off. The 24-year-old Rangers defenseman just needed to get away from it all.

So it was a little while before he got the message from his agent that the Rangers had traded veteran defenseman Patrik Nemeth to the Arizona Coyotes. This was significant news for him in that it meant that the team had just created an opening in the lineup for a left defenseman on the third pair. It was exactly the kind of opportunity Hajek, a second round pick in the 2016 NHL draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, needed.

“I worked really hard in the summer. I had this thing in my mind,’’ Hajek said Friday at Day 2 of the Rangers’ training camp. “So I try, every day, the hardest I can, best I can.

“I really like ‘Nemo,’’’ he continued. "He is a great guy. It's always, we have so many good players here, so it doesn't matter if it's Nemo [being traded] or somebody else.’’

The top four defensemen in the Rangers’ lineup are locked in: Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller are core players in the roster, and second-year pro Braden Schneider, the second of two first round picks the Rangers had in 2020, came up from AHL Hartford in midseason last year and nailed down a regular spot with his impressive play on the right side of the third pair.

With Nemeth gone, the Rangers entered training camp looking for someone to play on the left side of the third pair. And after a season in which he was limited to just 17 games, playing as the seventh or eighth defenseman on the roster, Hajek — who re-signed with the Rangers over the summer as a restricted free agent — is one of the in-house options coach Gerard Gallant will have to select from.

Hajek, Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson are the top three candidates to fill the spot, though GM Chris Drury could always make a trade for a veteran or perhaps claim someone off waivers as teams start to make cuts to get down to their 23-man opening night limit.

Jones, a third round pick who spent most of last season with Hartford but who did play 12 games for the Rangers, was thought to be the favorite for the open spot, but at Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage, it was Hajek, not Jones, who was partnered with Schneider. And Hajek scored a goal in the scrimmage, beating goalie Igor Shesterkin with a shot through traffic.

“He's in outstanding shape, he's a good person,’’ Gallant said of Hajek. “Last year wasn't a perfect year for him obviously, with [the team] not having any injuries [and him] not getting much of an opportunity to play. But he's a good personality, he's coming in with character, and he's getting the chance. He's going to get a good opportunity to play on our hockey team and play a lot of minutes. And we like the guy. It's just that everything went real well for us last year, and he didn't get an opportunity to play much.’’

Gallant acknowledged it had to be difficult for Hajek to handle his limited playing time last season. The team couldn’t afford to send him to the minor leagues because it would have had to expose him to waivers in order to do so, and he could have been claimed by another team. So Hajek stayed with the Rangers even though he had little chance to crack the lineup.

And yet, with the opportunity to at least explore the possibility of signing with a different team, Hajek returned to the Rangers on a one-year, one-way contract that will pay him $800,000.

“I mean, every season is different,’’ he said. “I go step by step. My mom always says be happy for little things. So I'm happy I'm back with New York Rangers. That's always an honor.’’

Hajek said he practiced with the Czech national team over the summer, and that helped him work on things in his defensive game that he couldn’t have worked on just working out by himself. Gallant said in the first two days of camp, he looks more confident than he did at times last season.

“Honestly, if you look at stuff that you didn't like, you'd probably say he looked like he lacked a little bit of confidence at times [last season],’’ Gallant said. “I don't see that this camp. He's come in here, (and) from Day 1, he looks strong. He looks good. He tested really well. So everything's good. Everything's leading to this guy being a good player on our hockey team. And again, we'll see what happens when it all boils down to it, because there's some guys battling for that spot, obviously. But he's looked really good.’’

TV update: MSG Networks announced it will broadcast five of the Rangers’ six preseason games and 69 of the 82 regular season games. All four games next week — Monday at home vs. the Islanders, Tuesday at Boston vs. the Bruins, and Thursday and Friday’s home-and-home with the Devils, will be broadcast on MSG, as will the Oct. 8 preseason game against the Islanders at UBS Arena. The first regular season broadcast will be Game 2 of the season, Oct. 14, when the Rangers visit the Minnesota Wild.

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