ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 7: Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Jan Hejda #35 of the Columbus Blue Jackets fight for control of the puck at the Scottrade Center on March 7, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Blues beat the Bluejackets 5-4 in a shoot out. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Defenseman Jan Hejda has had a quiet yet impressive career. The 6'4", 237lb Czech Republic native moved up the ranks in Europe, honing his skills primarily in the Czech Extraliga league (CZE). Born on June 18, 1978, Hejda didn't make his NHL debut until he was 28 years old. When he did, however, he showed that he had the skill and heart to stick.
In 1997, Hejda started his professional career playing for HC Slavia Praha of CZE. He played 6 seasons for them, totaling 236 games (21g/34a). During that time, he gained a reputation for being a tough defensive-defenseman who could make life difficult for the opposition without taking unnecessary penalties. In fact, in his 6 seasons in the CZE, he only recorded a total of 275 PIMs for an average of 46 per season. Hejda appeared in 42 playoff games for HC Slavia Praha (9g/9a) as well.
After being selected by the Sabres in the 4th round (106th overall) of the 2003 entry draft, he moved to Russia in 2003 to play for CSKA Moscow of the Russian Super League. In 120 games, he amassed 3 goals and 17 assists for 20 points, while only averaging 40 PIMs per year. His final season in Europe was with Khimik Moscow Oblast (RSL) where, in 50 games, the defenseman recorded 3 goals and 13 assists.
Hejda's international play extended into the World Championships (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008) where he helped propel the Czech Republic to the gold in 2005 and the silver in 2006. He also represented his country in 2010 at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Hejda made his move to North America in 2006 when he was traded by the Sabres to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 7th round pick. He signed a one-year deal within the week.
After only 5 games with the Oilers' AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Czech made his first appearance in the NHL and instantly became a solid piece on the Oilers' blueline. On January 8, 2007, Hejda scored his first NHL goal: an OT winner against the Los Angeles Kings.
In the summer of 2007, Hejda signed another one-year deal, this time for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He ended that season setting a franchise record of a plus/minus rating of +20. In the seven years of the club's existence, the highest rating prior to that was +13. Additionally, he recorded 13 assists for the BJs. Unsurprisingly, Columbus re-signed Hejda to a 3-year, $6 million contract.
Over the next three years, Jan Hejda was a vital piece in the Blue Jackets' line up. In 221 games, he scored 11 goals and added another 43 assists. However, being a defense-first blueliner, his true value can be seen in other numbers. During that time, he averaged 142 hits, 135 blocked shots, 21 minutes per game, and only 41 PIMs per season. Given his propensity to sacrifice his body as much as he does, you would think that Hejda would spend a great deal of time nursing injuries. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as he's only suffered one major injury while playing in the NHL: a sprained left knee which kept him out for just over 4 weeks in 2009.
Hejda's last season on the three year contract with the Blue Jackets was his best. He netted a career-high 5 goals, and his 20 points were the second highest he'd recorded in the NHL. He was second in hits for his team (28th in the NHL) and first in blocked shots (16th in NHL). He has become known as a solid defender whose strongest asset is forcing opponents to take bad angle, low percentage shots. His one blight on an otherwise stellar season was an uncharacteristic elbow to the head of forward Marcus Kruger of the Chicago Blackhawks. For this, Hejda received a two-game suspension.
On July 1, 2011, the Colorado Avalanche signed Jan Hejda to a four-year, $13 million contract. The length of the deal is something the Avs have been reluctant to do recently, signaling that the club has a tremendous amount of faith in the defenseman. Given his ability to be physical, responsible, and effective - while facing the toughest competition and zone starts - Hejda is definitely an incredible asset to any team even if he isn't a household name.