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2016 NHL Draft prospect profile: Libor Hajek stood out last year on a weak team

The Saskatoon Blades had a very rough year in the WHL, but one of their defensemen has earned some attention from scouts all the same.

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For the most part, in the NHL Draft teams tend to go after puck moving, scoring defenders first. The Saskatoon Blades' Libor Hajek is a mobile defenceman, but he is one of those players who prefers a defence first mentality. Putting his focus on shutting down the opposition, he makes it rather difficult for the opposition to put up points.

He had a tough go playing for the Saskatoon Blades - the third worst team in the entire WHL last season - but he still managed to do enough to earn some attention from scouts. He has done well enough that he is now expected to go somewhere either at the tail end of the first round, or early in the second.

Birthplace: Smrcek, Czech Republic

Shoots: Left

Position: Defence

Height: 6'1" Weight: 196lbs

As mentioned, Hajek focuses for the most part on his defensive responsibilities. He uses his large frame to keep opposing forwards on the outside, closes his gaps well, and is very tough to beat one-on-one. He is also a good enough skater to get back in transition, if a turnover arises that creates a break for the other team.

He is an all-situations player for Saskatoon. He handles penalty kill and power play minutes, and usually has to match up with the other team's top line. The same rang true when he played for the Czech Republic at the U18 World Championships.

His skating and puck moving skills are also good, but he definitely needs development in order to be an offensive threat at the next level. He has good offensive instincts, but things like cross ice passing, and his shot could use some work before they'll be NHL-ready tools.

Some concern has been expressed that he at times gets caught chasing the play. This naturally can lead to him being out of position, which is a problem in the defensive end. A little more awareness would go a long way for him, as he definitely has the physical tools to be a great shutdown defenseman.

Scouting

Future Considerations

Hajek is a physical, two-way defenseman who displays great fundamentals. The Czech import understands his responsibilities and sees the ice well. He skates well and has great edges, showing grace in turns and lateral movement. His speed allows him to skate pucks out of the zone if he prefers and to keep air-tight gaps when approached on the rush. Hajek has a good feel for his defensive zone and is great at scissoring threats off from getting to the net. He has a great mind for what the offense is thinking and uses an active stick to get in passing lanes or to poke unprotected pucks to a teammate.

He plays an assertive style, using his strength to gain body position in net-front confrontations or in board battles. He plays a lower-risk game and really prides himself on the defensive aspect of the game. The quickness of his release and accuracy of his shot make him effective, trumping the average velocity he gets behind his wrist shot. He makes some smart decisions on the line, using mobility to sneak into the zone to make himself an offensive option. He passes the puck beautifully. Hajek has some offensive skill, but he doesn’t use that skill set consistently. Once in a while, he will jump into a play where you can see that he has the skill to join the rush with or without the puck, but prefers to remain focused on his defensive role.

Hockey Prospect

In his first season in the WHL Libor was a bright spot in a rather disappointing season for the young Saskatoon Blades. Libor stands out as a strong, smooth skating defenseman who impacts the game on both sides of the puck. He he has very good acceleration and can explode off a stand-still. His first couple steps are very good as is his edge control and this allows him to have great escape ability in his own end as well to be a threat offensively as he can get up ice and join the rush.

Hajek can also surprise with a move in the offensive zone where his quick feet allow him to quickly gain some space forward and try to make a play with the puck on his stick before the defense sets up into position again. Hajek is capable of getting his shots on the net but isn’t a big threat there, his mobility and offense that springs from transition is more impressive than his offense from the point. Hajek is a strong player that has great balance and agility and uses this to win puck battles along the wall, although he still needs to add some polish to his physicality as he can be prone to chasing the play a bit and losing his positioning in the process.

Hajek is a strong defenseman in transition as he uses his size and skating to keep opponents to outside. He can also be the defenseman that recovers in time if his team turns the puck over in a dangerous position. Hajek is very hard to beat one on one and is very steady on odd man opportunities. If the forward dumps the puck past him, he also has the skating ability and size to win the race, get it back under control and start the transition the other way. Libor needs to work on being more consistent from shift to shift if he is going to make the jump to the next level. We found that at times he would get caught chasing the play. He projects as a mobile two-way defenseman with size that will probably lean more towards the defensive side of it at the pro-level. That said, Hajek not only already is more than a defensive defenseman, he also has enough offensive tools to develop the offensive part of his game further as he moves forward.

ISS

Hajek is a smooth skating defensemen that has steadily improved over the course of the season. He plays in every situation and logs a lot of big minutes for Saskatoon. Elevated his game and was Czech’s "go-to" guy on the backend throughout the U18 World Championships in Grand Forks. Played mostly against team’s top line and both PK/PP units. Gets caught occasionally but has speed to get back. Tends to run in the DZ at times. Will join the rush and activate from the point. Has a chance for the NHL with improved defensive play, not sure about ceiling - his decision making is also a concern.

Rankings

ISS: 36th

Hockey Prospect: 32nd

Future Considerations: 38th

Draft Analyst: 30th

DraftBuzz Hockey: 33rd

NHL Central Scouting Service: 31st (North American skaters)

Thoughts

Should he slide into the second round, the Canadiens would have to consider him at the very least. Personally, I have my eye on some other players for their two second-round picks, but to add a solid shutdown player of his calibre in the second round is an interesting idea.

If he were to eventually come to an organization that has polished puck movers like P.K. Subban, Nathan Beaulieu, and Jeff Petry, it could only help him. He would hopefully be able to learn more offensive skills while continuing to act as the shutdown presence that he already is in junior.

That being said, according to most pundits he should be gone before Canadiens 39th overall pick comes around. That means if they want him they might have to trade up into the tail end of the first round. In that situation, I wouldn't think that it is worth it.

He definitely has NHL potential, but there is work to do, so you have to use the right pick if you're going to get Libor Hajek.