The New York Rangers decided not to trade Jesper Fast this season even though he is in the final year of a three-year, $5.55 million contract. He has rewarded them with one of the best seasons of his career and has played on a line with a star player (Artemi Panarin) for the first time in his career. A strong postseason could help earn the Swedish winger a pay raise in his next contract.
Fast’s Chemistry With Linemates
Rangers head coach David Quinn shuffled around the team’s lines and defense pairs early in the season as he tried to find the right fit for Panarin, as well as rookies, including Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren. Fast bounced from line to line but was excellent defensively and chipped in offensively.
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He was put on a line centered by Ryan Strome, along with Panarin fairly early in the season. The three played well together and have remained on the same line ever since.
Fast had 3 goals and 6 assists in his first 27 games of the season. In his next 42 games, he had 9 goals and 11 assists, giving him a total of 12 goals and 17 assists in 69 games. He was on pace to surpass his career-high of 33 points when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. He produced more offensively than last season, when he finished with 8 goals and 12 assists in 66 games.
Fast has averaged a career-high 16:36 in time on ice per game this season. While he has proven he can contribute offensively, the main reason for his increased playing time is his grit and excellent defensive play. He is a responsible defensive forward and consistently wins battles for the puck. These qualities have allowed Panarin to have more time with the puck in his possession and have given him more freedom to be aggressive offensively.
Fast’s Defensive Play
A driving force behind the success of his line has been Fast’s ability to consistently do the little things well. Instead of forcing plays, he is willing to dump the puck into the offensive zone. He avoids unnecessary giveaways. He’s quick on the forecheck and doesn’t pass up opportunities to throw checks. He is among the team’s leaders with 125 this season.
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Fast has also been one of the team’s best penalty killers this season. His ability to kill penalties helped establish him in the NHL and he has only improved with experience. His positioning is excellent and he fearlessly blocks shots. Because of this, even when he slumps offensively, he remains a valuable forward.
Fast’s Postseason Experience
Even though the Blueshirts have failed to make the postseason in consecutive seasons, Fast has quite a bit of playoff experience. He has repeatedly stepped up in the postseason.
Fast played well during New York’s run to the Eastern Conference Final during the 2014-15 season. He spent most of his time on the third and fourth lines. He was a key penalty killer and contributed offensively despite not playing on lines with the team’s top offensive players. He finished with 3 goals and 3 assists in 19 games.
Two years later, he once again stepped up in the postseason. He played on lower lines, excelled at killing penalties and earned playing time late in games. He also had three goals and three assists in 12 games before the Rangers were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the postseason in 2017. One of those goals was a game-tying shorthanded goal in Game 5 of the first round against the Montreal Canadiens. New York went on to win the game in overtime and then won Game 6 to clinch the series.
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Overall, Fast has six goals, eight assists and is plus-three in 39 postseason games. He also has 99 hits and 24 blocked shots. He plays a gritty, defensive-minded style, and that sets him up for success in the playoffs, which are generally tight-checking.
Fast already has some playoff experience and should get more playing time and more scoring opportunities now that he is playing on a line with Panarin. He has already established himself as an important player but he will have an opportunity to raise his level of play offensively this postseason.
Playing with Panarin and Strome means Fast will have higher expectations this postseason, but he has thrived under pressure so far in his career so that shouldn’t be a problem. Still, he may never get another opportunity to play on a line with someone as dynamic and skilled as Panarin, so he has to take advantage of it.
It will be interesting to see if the Rangers can re-sign Fast. He is an alternate captain, who has developed into a key forward and a respected leader.
The team would love to have him back next season and if they did not believe they could sign him, they likely would have traded him this season. However, an impressive postseason performance might make him too expensive for New York to re-sign.
This postseason could very well determine if the Rangers re-sign Fast as well as the terms of the contact. His future is in his own hands, and he has a tremendous opportunity in front of him.