The left shoulder injury sustained by Libor Hajek on a check from Blake Coleman at the Garden on March 9 that ended the rookie defenseman’s season after five games is a thing of the past. There are no physical complications to prevent the 21-year-old Czech from nailing down a job on Broadway right out of the gate.
“There is nothing bothering me from that,” Hajek said after Monday’s training camp scrimmage. “I did some [physical therapy] before I went home and then took a couple of months off after I left New York before I started training again.”
Hajek, penciled in on the left side with Brady Skjei and Marc Staal, worked with a skills coach from the Czech national program when he got back on skates.
“Twice a day, all summer,” Hajek said. “Then I came here and worked with [conditioning coach Ben Prentiss]. It helps a lot.”
Hajek, the featured piece of the package including Brett Howden and Vladimir Namestnikov that came from Tampa Bay in exchange for Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller at the 2018 deadline, impressed during his five-game NHL cameo. That followed what had been a disappointing freshman pro season with the AHL Wolf Pack.
“Libor is picking up where he left off,” David Quinn said. “His skating, quick decision-making below the tops of the circles in our end, physical on the puck … He looks as good as he did last year when he was playing for us.”
Hajek, selected by Tampa Bay with the 32nd pick in the 2016 entry draft, acknowledged last season that he had placed too much pressure on himself and was overly concerned with doing his part to justify the trade. That won’t be an obstacle this time around.
“It feels like home,” Hajek said. “I’m not afraid, anymore.”
Tarmo Reunanen, the club’s fourth-round selection in the 2016 entry draft, has had an impressive opening of camp, but the plan is for the 21-year-old Finnish lefty defenseman to return to his native country and play on loan for Lukko.
Joey Keane, the 20-year-old righty defenseman who created a strong impression in last year’s camp, looked good in Monday’s scrimmage that was pretty much a 23-and-under affair. It’s a stretch to believe Keane is close to being NHL-ready, but Tony DeAngelo’s continued absence has created an opportunity for a defenseman to perhaps earn a job.
If DeAngelo’s contract impasse lasts long enough to have an impact on his readiness to start the season (or if he offer-sheets his way out of New York), veteran lefty Joe Morrow may have the inside track. The 26-year-old, who has played 162 career games and is in camp on a tryout, skated a fair amount on the right last season with the Jets with Dmitry Kulikov and Sami Niku.
Yegor Rykov, who suffered an ankle injury at Traverse City, skated for the fourth straight day and is close to joining the group. It is possible the Rangers could take a look at the lefty on the right side. … Sean Day, who underwent offseason hip surgery, has also been skating but he is not expected to begin group activities for a spell.
The Blueshirts open the exhibition schedule Wednesday at the Garden against the Devils.
The Rangers trimmed their training-camp roster by seven. Francois Brassard, Ryan Gropp, Tom McCollum, Ville Meskanen and Ty Ronning were assigned to camp with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Nico Gross and Hunter Skinner were assigned to their junior teams in the OHL.