Photo Source: Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Among the defencemen projected to be available in the second round is Czech born rearguard Libor Hájek. Hájek has just completed his first season in North America, playing for a rather dreadful Saskatoon Blades team.
Hájek is a defensive defenceman in the modern sense. That is, not a stay-at-home, clear the net type of defender, but one whose reputation is built almost entirely on transitioning the puck out of his own zone rather than in the generation of offence in the opposing zone.
Defencemen of this type are becoming increasingly valuable in the current NHL, where speed and transition are key. While he won’t likely be your teams best blueliner, Hájek should be a dependable 2-3 defenceman on a good team.
- Age: 18 (February 2nd, 1998)
- Birthplace: Smrcek, CZE
- Frame: 6′ 2″, 196 lbs
- Position: D
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
- Accomplishments/Awards: Czech U16 Champion (2012-13); Hlinka Memorial Silver Medal (2014-15); CHL Top Prospects Game (2015-16)
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From The Draft Analyst:
Libor Hajek’s game is simple – find the puck, get the puck, move the puck. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Well, there aren’t many defenders anywhere, let alone teenage draft-eligibles, who can be counted on to do all three with consistency. Hajek had the misfortune of playing smack in the middle of a Saskatoon rebuild where the ice was routinely tilted towards his own end. To call his nightly efforts valiant would be an understatement – he was a man on an island for long stretches, to include the Czech Republic’s nightmarish performance at the recent U18 world championship.
Hajek converts speed into power in either direction, using athleticism and sound judgment to attack openings or create them himself. He has a decent first step for a big guy, yet only requires a few strides to reach top speed. If you see open ice ahead of you, better make it quick, as Hajek will chase you down and smother the puck with relative ease. His positioning and slot coverage are excellent, and rarely is he guilty of wandering or puck gazing. You can make the argument that Hajek is the draft’s best defender from his own goal line to center ice. Offensively, he’s a good passer with a decent shot, and uses his wheels to make creative plays. He plays a smart and poised two-way game, and should be groomed for the top pairing.
From Future Considerations:
Hajek is a physical and smart defender who consistently just makes the right decision for the situation. He skates with a powerful stride that is both agile and quick. He covers a lot of ground whether he is stepping up to lay a big hit or trying to recover quickly on the defensive side. Strong on the puck and likes to have it on his stick, making solid passes up the ice to his forwards. The Czech Import utilizes aggressive positioning and physical play to be effective defensively.
Hájek is not a big time point producer. In the WHL alone, there are six other first-time draft eligible prospects that had more points than him this year, seven had him beat in primary points, and a dozen scored more goals.
His strengths are mainly rooted on his own side of centre. He excels at puck retrieval and dispersal, making sharp first passes to exit his own zone before opposing forecheckers can get close to him. It seems like a simple task, but it is of vital importance in the modern era, where speed and transition trump size in most cases. Hájek’s hockey IQ is well above average, and he plays the game as if he can see events unfolding several steps in advance. For Canucks fans, there are shades of Chris Tanev in Hájek.
His defensive minded game is likely to be a factor in his relatively low point totals, but playing for an abysmal Saskatoon Blades side didn’t help either. Saskatoon was routinely outshot, owning a 46 per cent share in shots taken during their games. They were third worst in the WHL in Estimated Fenwick-Close percentage, a proxy for possession, with a mark of 46.1 per cent. Adding insult to injury, they had the league’s worst save percentage (.875), leaving them with a brutal goals-for percentage of 40.7.
Being a central figure on the backend of an awful team makes Hájek’s personal goals-for percentage of 44.4 per cent look considerably more passable, about four a half per cent better than the teams goals-for percentage when he wasn’t on the ice. In fact, in terms of GFrel%, Hájek actually comes on out top of draft competition like Jake Bean (+2.92), David Quenneville (+2.86), and Lucas Johansen (+0.02). If he were given a chance to play on a stronger team, he might see better results at both ends of the ice.
Hájek’s pGPS percentage of 17.4 per cent indicates that a little more than one in six statistically comparable players went on to play at least 200 NHL games. The average NHL points per game of these matches (0.22) suggests that he doesn’t exactly project to be an offensive dynamo. This meshes well with the scouting reports – Hájek is primarily a defence-first blueliner that will attain points more from his effective transition game than from offensive zone creativity.
Successful matches according to the pGPS factors (production, stature, and age) include former Canucks Aaron Rome and Brent Sopel, as well as Vancouver native Karl Alzner. Some of the most profilic matches include Travis Hamonic, Dion Phaneuf, and Eric Brewer.
In spite of his Nation Network ranking of 40th, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hájek go to any of the Canadian teams that populate the 30-40 range.