Heading into the 2015-2016 season winger Jesper Fast was expected to move up the New York Rangers depth chart and take on more responsibility with the departure of fellow Swede Carl Hagelin. He did just that by posting 10 goals and 20 assists, which was a noticeable jump from his 14 point output the season prior. The extra 21 games he played helped him amass some points but the truth is that Fast was a sound player in all three zones and it’s fair to think he might take on an even bigger role next year with changes looming in New York.
One area where I noticed Fast was his patience and ability to make things happen on offense. When he was first coming up to join the Rangers, the thought was that he’d be an excellent addition to the fourth-line because of his foot speed and ability to play a good defensive game. This year Fast showed that he has a terrific shot, combined with the capacity to make highly skilled plays. One that sticks out to me was his deflection on a point shot back in January against the Bruins with time running out in the third period.
This jump in offensive play started in the playoffs of the 2014-2015 campaign where Fast suddenly seemed to be scoring some important goals for the club and generating chances with his speed. One huge play he made that started to change the way we think of the forward came in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Ben Bishop. Fast shot up the ice and made a brilliant move to score that displayed hands, speed and patience. Those attributes continue to emerge the more he plays.
Fast does all the little things on the ice, and that’s part of the reason he won the Players Player Award. He finished the regular season eighth on the team in hits with 109 and eighth on the team in blocked shots with 55. He was also one of the lone bright spots of a poor Rangers’ penalty kill logging 172:08 on the unit behind only Dominic Moore. Steve Zipay of Newsday quoted Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault about the Swedish winger in an article published back in January, “I have, and I think his teammates have, a lot of faith when he’s on the ice, he’s going to make the right play.”
We never see the forward caught stick handling in his defensive zone or making a lazy change, and this relentless style can bleed into the other Rangers at times. He is one of the best back-checkers on the team, and he’s tremendous at keeping his coverage even during scrambles. One would think that the jump in offense would mean a dip in defensive play but that wasn’t the case at all, in fact, Fast saw his plus minus jump from a minus one to a plus nine.
Should He Have a Bigger Role next Season?
The 24-year-old seems to be developing nicely and could be a second line forward, but if the Rangers want to stay competitive, they’d be wise to try to bring in another body and not put too much pressure on Fast. There’s no doubt that he can play anywhere in the lineup but getting him out there in a bottom six role gives New York that added depth and ability to hurt teams lower defensive pairings. That said if Fast comes out in training camp and is firing on all cylinders then why not give him some looks on better units and maybe even the power play. The Rangers shouldn’t overplay their hand with Fast; they need to keep developing him and putting him in a situation where he can succeed.