Jesper Fast has grown quickly in the New York Rangers organization. After a solid playoffs, the forward has made a case to have a bigger role with the team in the 2015-2016 season. Going into last-year, he had a role as a speedster on the fourth-line who could create some havoc and chip in the occasional point, but this past post-season allowed fans to see that Fast can do more than just grind. His solid work and continued improvement should give the 23-year-old an opportunity to secure a spot in a more offensive role.
Filling in for Hagelin
Fast plays a similar game to Carl Hagelin in that he isn’t very big, but his excellent speed, strong hands, and hockey-sense allow him to bounce around the line-up. Through most of the season Fast was solid, but he seemed to be focusing solely on being a responsible defensive forward. When the playoffs came around, Fast appeared to play with more confidence and we saw him display his offensive ability with different line-mates.
With Hagelin traded to Anaheim, many have speculated that Emerson Etem, or Viktor Stalberg would step into the speedster’s shoes, but with Fast playing a more diverse game, he is a legitimate candidate to assume at least some of Hagelin’s responsibilities. The only issue I see is that Fast is a right-winger, while Hagelin was a left-winger, so the Rangers may have to juggle some bodies or start deploying Fast on the other wing. Either way, the forward has the tools necessary to make such an adjustment. If he proves in camp that he can be effective with better offensive players then he will be in a top-nine role with the club.
My colleague Brian Sklar lists Fast as a Ranger who could have a breakout season after a strong showing in last years playoffs. He predicts the young Swede to bounce between the second and fourth lines based on his play, and end the season with 35 points, which was Hagelin’s output last season.
Hidden Power-Play Option
Last season the Rangers power-play had its moments of promise, and at other times it struggled mightily. When Alain Vigneault first joined the Rangers back in 2013 he explained that right-handed shooters were crucial to any power-plays success. Last season the Rangers had only three right-handed players on their roster crack 100 minutes in power play time, Derek Stepan (181:21), Dan Boyle (171:20), and Dan Girardi (121:09).
Now the Rangers did add Jarret Stoll , and he will certainly be an option on the man advantage, but the Rangers would do well to see what Fast could do with some added time and space. Even though he’s a speedy player, he does display some poise with the puck, and he gets to the net well. He doesn’t have to run the unit like Stepan does, but he could be more of a decoy in front of the net to keep defenders honest on the possibility of a one-timer. Even though Fast isn’t a big body, he fights through traffic well and can get off some hard shots through congestion.
The Next Wave
Yes, it’s important that the Rangers find someone to pick-up Hagelins’ role for the coming season, but the Rangers also have to continue developing their young players to take on bigger roles for the future of their organization. At 23-years-old Fast is among the youngest Rangers forwards, and is expected to be part of the Rangers core for years to come.
As we have seen over time, rosters change year to year so teams need to keep their young talent in the loop. The Rangers have dealt away some high draft picks and talent over the past couple of years to try to win now, which means that young forwards like Fast will need to hold the fort until the Rangers can restock their shelves with some picks.
I love how Fast plays the game; he’s physical, he gives it his all every shift, and he has the offensive ability to capitalize on opportunities. His cap hit of $950,000 over the next two seasons just adds to his value as a piece of the Rangers puzzle from a salary-cap stand point.
I think we could see him have his best season to date if he’s deployed in a more offensive role. It seems like every game he gets a bit more comfortable, so putting him with some line-mates that could distribute the puck could get him to the next stage in his career sooner rather than later. I see a lot of upside in the young Swede and I think the Rangers would be shooting themselves in the foot if they handcuffed him into being a career fourth-liner.