The expectations for Jesper Fast heading into last season were exceptionally low which probably had a lot to do with the glut of forwards in the Rangers' bottom six fighting for roster spots throughout training camp and the 2014 preseason. Fast, who skated in just 11 games with the Rangers in 2013-14, had to work exceptionally hard just to carve out a role for himself on the Rangers' roster. At the onset of the 2014-15 campaign Fast was in direct competition with players like J.T. Miller, Lee Stempniak, Tanner Glass, Matthew Lombardi, Ryan Malone, Anthony Duclair, and a few other Rangers' forwards for a spot in the Rangers' bottom six. Thanks in part to some injuries in the Rangers lineup, Fast, who many considered to be a dark horse pick for the 2014-15 roster, made the opening night roster thanks to exemplary preseason play and his two-way game.
After skating in the club's first 3 games of the season Fast was a healthy scratch until he was sent down to the minors with J.T. Miller on October 17th (Chris Mueller was called up). Fast wouldn't get back into the lineup until November 11th when Ryan Malone was sent down to Hartford. Fast's last game in the AHL last season was played on November 9th. Although he would be a healthy scratch here and there for the Rangers after being called up on November 10th, Fast stayed up with the big club for the remainder of the regular season and into the postseason.
What Fast showed on the Rangers' this past season which we didn't see a lot of in his 11 games in 2013-14 were some flashes of the offensive production that had been there for him at the AHL level. In 11 games in the AHL last season Fast had 9 points and Jesper picked up 14 points in 58 games with the Rangers playing exclusively with the Rangers' bottom six forwards (he was moved up to the second line in the postseason because of injuries).
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One of Jesper's 6 goals from last season.
Fast picking up 6 goals in 58 games in the role that he filled for the Rangers was a big deal for the Rangers even though the club was the third-highest scoring team in hockey. The lack of production and offensive contributions from the bottom six, especially the 4th line, over the past few seasons has been something that fans and analysts have heavily criticized. Despite playing tough minutes and working his tail off on the penalty kill, Fast did manage to put some points on the board while still playing a brilliant defensive game. It was because of this that he finally earned himself a regular roster spot after being called up in November.
"That's his game," Kreider said. "He does do a lot of little things, a lot of detail oriented hockey. He's a workhorse too. He's always churning, always moving his legs. He's so smart and consistent and responsible defensively."
"He's got tremendous hockey sense, both defensively and offensively," Vigneault said. "He can read the game real well. And he works like an SOB. He works and he works and he works. He just doesn't stop. That makes him a real effective player."
Just to be clear, those quotes were about Fast's play in the postseason, but they are still very relevant in regards to understanding how valuable he was to the Rangers in the regular season. To put it simply, Jesper Fast does all of the little things right and that is just what you need from a bottom six forward who frequently gets his ice time during defensive zone starts. The fact that Fast played that well as a rookie and arguably had to work harder than any other Rangers' forward to earn his ice time is more than enough reason for fans and analysts fall in love with him and his play. "Quickie" will never be the biggest player on the ice, but he will always have the best motor and will never quit on a play or play in a manner than makes him a hindrance to his team.
When Fast was on the ice last season the thing that most people noticed was how strong his defensive game was. The young Swedish forward not only lives up to his surname with his gifted skating ability, he's also notably more effective at shot suppression than the league average and received fewer offensive zone starts than every Rangers forward not named Dominic Moore. Remember, Fast achieved all of this at 22 and 23 years of age and at his entry-level cap hit of $805,000. The Rangers certainly got a lot of out of young Swedish forward last season when they had him in the lineup and put him in situations where he could excel and most help his team. Let's take a look at just how good Jesper Fast was at suppressing shots when he was on the ice for the Blueshirts last season.
When Jesper Fast is on the ice he not only helps to keep shots from coming from the slot (which is obviously the most crucial area to defend), he also helps to suppress shots from the outside. When you pair this information with how effective and useful Fast was when the Rangers are shorthanded, his 1:06 SH TOI/G was 5th among all Rangers' forwards, it should become clear just how valuable and good Fast was in 2014-15. In late January, Fast was the NHL leader in shorthanded ice time without allowing a power play goal. Although Moore, Hagelin, Nash, and Stepan were on the ice more frequently when the Rangers were down a man, Fast proved through his play that he was exceptionally good penalty killer.
On February 7th Fast suffered a sprained knee in a game against the Nashville Predators. The injury kept him out of New York's lineup for nearly a month. After he returned to the club in early March, Fast stayed in the Rangers' lineup through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. Even though it seemed to take the coaching staff a little too long to notice, Fast showed with his play that he was more than just a 13th forward and the first guy to be plugged in when another forward went down with an injury or if another young player needed a wake-up call. With Jesper Fast in the lineup on the 4th line the Rangers were a better hockey team, and when he had to fill in on the 3rd line he occasionally found ways to chip in offensively.
Just to give us all some warm fuzzies to start off the week here's Jesper Fast's first NHL goal that came late in November of last season against the Flyers.
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Why was he ever a healthy scratch?
Fast earns an "A" from me because he is darn close to my ideal 4th line winger and he played that way last season. Jesper Fast is an elite penalty killing forward, he can skate like the wind, he stays out of the box, and although he is undersized and is not gifted with a great shot or magical hands, he was and is a useful player for the New York Rangers. The fact that the Rangers extended Fast this offseason for two more years at an AAV of $950,000 says a lot about how much of an impression he made with the Rangers' brass last season. Would it have been nice to see some more offensive production from him? Sure, but given his role, his linemates, and the time that he missed with trips down to the AHL and his knee injury, I find it hard to give him anything other than a solid "A" for what he brought to the Rangers in the 2014-15 season.
As always, thanks for reading and let's go Rangers. What grade would you give Jesper Fast for his play last season? Also, can you believe how great he was in the 2015 Playoffs?