The Washington Times - March 6, 2013, 12:04PM

The New York Rangers claimed Roman Hamrlik off waivers from the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, the day after defenseman Marc Staal took a puck to the face against the Philadelphia Flyers.

“I’m happy for him,” coach Adam Oates said of Hamrlik. “He wants to play hockey and he’s got a chance to play and hopefully he does well.”

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The Rangers assume the 38-year-old defenseman’s $3.5 million cap hit and his remaining salary. Washington gets the corresponding salary cap relief.

His now ex-Caps teammates said before noon they hoped he would get claimed so he would get an opportunity to play.

“It’s a tough situation,” defenseman Tom Poti said. “He’s the ultimate professional. He hasn’t complained or sighed at all. He’s out there, he’s one of our hardest workers in practice. … It’s pretty special when a guy can last for 20 years. You know you’re doing something right.”

This is Hamrlik’s 20th NHL season. He’s a veteran of 1,383 games. The Rangers will be his seventh team.

Hamrlik had been a healthy scratch for 17 of 21 games this season. His last appearance came Feb. 7 at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“It’s obviously very hard,” Oates said. “You’ve had a great career and we all went through it. We all get old, right? He can still play in this league, no question. The depth chart just kind of grabbed him a little bit here, and tough circumstances because of the lockout and all the other stuff we’ve talked about.”

Poti’s emergence after being out for two years with groin injuries and a fractured pelvis made Hamrlik a victim of this numbers game. The Caps called up Tomas Kundratek and Steve Oleksy from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, though Oates explained those moves as needing right-handed shots.

As a lefty, Hamrlik was stuck without a spot in the lineup. Oates commended Hamrlik for how he handled it with the coaching staff and general manager George McPhee.

“He wants to play, but he did it the right way,” the Caps’ coach said. “He was professional about it, and there are ways to do it: you call your agent, you talk to your GM. You’re obviously upset inside, but you’ve got to go out there and be one of the team.”

Hamrlik served as a mentor to the 23-year-old Kundratek, even as he sat out as a healthy scratch.

“He’s got 20 seasons under his belt and he’s unreal guy to have in the dressing room,” Kundratek said Monday.

“He told me a lot of stories. He’s a great guy,” said goaltender and fellow Czech Michal Neuvirth, who called Hamrlik a “legend” back home. “I still believe he can play in the NHL.”

Obviously the Rangers believe that, too. Staal’s status is unclear after his scary incident Tuesday night.

“The league is amazing: Staal gets hurt last night, they need a guy,” Oates said. “Roman’s the call.”