With the retirement of goaltender J.S. Giguere from the NHL, defenseman Jan Hejda becomes the oldest player on the Colorado Avalanche roster at 36. Even though he is in the twilight of his career, Hejda continues to play at a high level, as he and teammate Erik Johnson are the regular top defensive pair for Colorado.
Hejda is what you could call a pure defensive defenseman, meaning that he doesn't contribute much offensively, but is a big, nasty, disruptive force on his team's side of the ice. At 6'4" and 237 pounds, he presents an imposing obstacle to oncoming forwards. His combination of size, body control and experience enable him to be a defensive cornerstone at this stage of his career.
Like several of his Colorado teammates, Hejda didn't begin playing in the NHL until his late 20's, although in his case, it wasn't because he was thought of as not being good enough. Hejda chose to spend the first several years of his hockey playing career in his native Czech Republic and later in Russia before coming to North America to play in the NHL. By the time he started the NHL portion of his career, he was already a fully developed and very capable defenseman. He was a fixture on the Columbus Blue Jackets defense before signing with the Avalanche as a free agent in 2011. Since coming to Colorado, his ability and leadership have proven highly valuable.
Next season, Hejda should either continue playing on the top pair with Johnson or slide down to the second pair, probably with Tyson Barrie, and let newly acquired Brad Stuart take over alongside Johnson. By the time Hejda decides to retire, there will be someone waiting in the wings to fill his roster spot, but that is at least a year away. For now, he can show that being the team's senior citizen is no reason to think he isn't still a force to be reckoned with.
UPDATE, July 2, 3:24 p.m. : Jan Hejda wasn't the oldest Avalanche player for very long, as the team has acquired forward Daniel Briere as of June 30 and forward Jarome Iginla as of July 1.
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