Chychrun. Sergachev. Juolevi. McAvoy. Bean.
Conversation surrounding the 2016 NHL Draft has seen these defensemen mentioned at every turn, and with good reason. They’re all incredibly skilled players who project to go in the first round. Flying slightly under the radar, however, is a player not far from their level — Saskatoon Blades defenseman Libor Hajek.
At age 16, Hajek played for HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga. However, he felt coming over to the CHL would give him the best opportunity to improve his game prior to the 2016 NHL Draft, and so he entered the 2015 CHL Import Draft. The Saskatoon Blades selected him second overall—ahead of Alex Nylander and Mikhail Sergachev, both of whom went to the OHL and are expected to be first-round picks this June.
A left-shooting defenseman from Smrcek, Czech Republic, Hajek is 6’1” and 198 pounds. He ended the WHL regular season with 26 points (3 goals, 23 assists) in 69 games, and also played for Team Orr in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects game.
Per WHLStats.ca, 15 of his 26 regular season points were primary points. Recently, Hajek competed in the IIHF U18 World Championships for the Czech Republic, tallying 2 assists and 8 shots on goal in 5 games.
Despite falling from 26th at midterm to 31st in Central Scouting’s final rankings, it appears Hajek will go early to mid-second round, with a slight chance of him sneaking into the first if a team sees something they really like. Just outside Central Scouting’s top 30 North American skaters isn’t a bad place to be. Hajek is also the 7th highest ranked prospect from the WHL.
One of Hajek’s standout strengths is his skating. Both his forward and backwards skating is smooth, and he is both quick and agile. He’s strong on the puck, consistently making good choices and winning puck battles.
Hajek also plays a physical game — not in a way that could be described as simply playing physical for physicality’s sake, but in a way that allows him to be more effective defensively.
Described as a composed player, Hajek contains his opponents well and reads and executes plays quickly and effectively, thanks to his above-average hockey sense. He’s smart, reading the ice well and using that to pitch in offensively, and his shot and stickhandling abilities are also considered valuable assets.
Justin Froese of Future Considerations to Yahoo’s Buzzing the Net said:
“The first thing I noticed about the youngster was his confidence and ability to calm plays down when there was pressure introduced to a situation. His elusiveness in the defensive zone while being harassed by forecheckers is impressive. Hajek uses brilliance and slick puck handling skills to weave away from opponents and avoid checks; passing smoothly to a teammate or transitioning pucks out of the defensive zone himself when he finds a lane.”
Hard work also seems to be a cornerstone of Hajek’s game. He’s dedicated to fixing flaws in his play and consistently getting better—choosing to move from the Czech Extraliga to the WHL this season proves that. This is something that any team considering draft him will appreciate, as work ethic in development is key for drafted prospects.
Skill is important, but even in today’s NHL teams are going to hesitate to draft a skilled player if they’re concerned about his work habits. With so much still left to chance in the draft, getting a return on your time and patience has become paramount. Hajek is the type of player NHL teams are going to consider worth the investment.