GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Libor Hajek admitted he was stressed all weekend, worrying about whether he would make the Rangers’ opening-night roster.
“I didn’t really sleep after the game on Saturday,’’ Hajek said, referring to the Rangers’ final preseason game, a 4-2 loss to the Islanders in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “My girlfriend, she’s here, so we just — I was just nervous all day [Sunday]. So we didn’t really talk too much.’’
Hajek made the team Monday, surviving a battle with fellow 21-year-old Ryan Lindgren, who had a strong camp and closed with a tremendous performance in Saturday’s game.
Filip Chytil, a first-round pick in 2017 who spent all of last season with the Rangers, was the most notable player not to make the club. He was sent to the Rangers’ Hartford Wolf Pack farm team along with Lindgren, 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov, forward Vinni Lettieri and goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Forward Boo Nieves was put on waivers and will be assigned to Hartford if he clears. Defenseman Tarmo Reunanen was loaned to his old club, Lukko of the Finnish league, and defenseman Joe Morrow was released from his professional tryout agreement. Defenseman Yegor Rykov remains out with an ankle sprain that caused him to miss all of training camp, leaving the Rangers with 22 players, one fewer than the 23 allowed.
“I feel pretty good about our team right now,’’ said general manager Jeff Gorton, who said keeping 22 players rather than 23 helps with the Rangers’ tight salary-cap situation. With the current roster, they are $1.13 million under the $81.5 million cap, according to CapFriendly.
Gorton said Chytil, 20, who had 11 goals and 23 points in 75 games for the Rangers last season, was sent down because he wasn’t going to be a regular on one of the top three lines and the Rangers didn’t think it would serve his development to play on a fourth line or sometimes be a healthy scratch. First-line duty in Hartford makes more sense, Gorton said.
Coach David Quinn was asked what Chytil lacked.
“Things that we’ve talked about before with Fil,’’ he said. “You know, understanding how competitive you’re going to need to be on pucks, consistently. Faceoffs. Responsibilities defensively . . . His feel for the game in general. That comes with playing a lot and growing as a player. And right now, we feel that [Hartford’s] the best spot for him to do that in.”
Lias Andersson, another 2017 first-round pick, did make the team, thanks to a trimmed-down body and a strong camp. Greg McKegg, an under-the-radar summer free-agent signing, impressed enough to earn a fourth-line spot. Physical forward Micheal Haley, 33, in camp on a professional tryout agreement, earned a two-way contract.
Rookie defenseman Adam Fox of Jericho had a strong camp and made the roster, as did Kaapo Kakko, 18, the second overall pick in this summer’s draft. Gorton said there never was a doubt about Kakko.
Notes & quotes: Gorton said he hasn’t spoken recently about a contract extension with left wing Chris Kreider, who is entering the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. “You know, we had some conversations over the summer, but right now, we’re just going to let him play hockey and we’ll let those things work themselves out,’’ he said . . . Defenseman Tony DeAngelo missed practice because of the death of his grandfather . . . Kakko, Andersson and Hajek changed their jersey numbers. Kakko took the No. 24 he wore in Finland, Hajek took the No. 28 he wore in the Czech Republic and Canadian junior hockey, and Andersson switched from 50 to 28 because “I like numbers that start with 2.’’