Jesper Fast is a 24 year old former sixth round pick that played wing on almost every conceivable line last season. He plays hockey in straight lines and works damn hard no matter who his linemates are or what the score is. He's exactly the kind of player winning teams need to have in their bottom six.
Fast had a cap hit of just $950k and with that cap hit came low expectations. He was expected to be a valuable role player for the team last season and that is exactly what he was. Head coach Alain Vigneault frequently tried to jump start struggling lines by putting the meat-and-potatoes Swedish winger on them.
The undersized winger saw an average of 14:56 TOI/G in his 79 games last season. He scored 10 goals and picked up 20 assists (all ES) playing wing with a cavalcade of different linemates. After the trade deadline Fast played himself onto the wing of a third line featuring Kevin Hayes and Eric Staal.
Fast scored 10 more points than Viktor Stalberg and 15 more than Dominic Moore last season. When it comes to counting minutes and seconds his most frequent linemates at even strength were Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan.
What most people associate Fast with is his penalty killing. No other Rangers forward was deployed shorthanded more than Fast was last season. It's safe to say that Fast was frequently used in a defensive role. Only Stalberg, Tanner Glass, and Moore were deployed more frequently in the defensive zone at even strength.
Let’s look at his metrics when compared to the recently departed Stalberg.
He doesn't have the offensive upside of Hayes or J.T. Miller, but Fast gives the Rangers more than just counting stats. Still, he could do more to get pucks on net.
When he is given ice time with top-six players it would be encouraging to see his production numbers increase. Fortunately for the Rangers' depth situation, we likely won't see that happen very often next season. He is expected to plug in at right wing on the fourth line next year.
In the 2014-15 season Fast’s amazing streak of successful penalty killing shifts made him stand out as the team’s best penalty killer. That season the Rangers had the sixth best penalty killing group with an 84.3% success rate. This season the Rangers’ penalty killing plummeted to 78.2%, or 26th in the league. Yikes.
Fast and the rest of the Rangers most frequently deployed penalty killers (Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal) didn’t do enough to help their goaltenders.
The penalty killing was so bad for the Rangers that fixing it has become one of the stories of the 2016 offseason. It also might be a big reason why the Rangers went out of their way to add more noteworthy penalty killers to their bottom six forward group in Nathan Gerbe and Michael Grabner.
Quiet off the ice and all about business when he's on it, Fast tends to fly under the radar of the Garden Faithful. However, his fellow Rangers take notice of what he brings to the team night in and night out. He was given the Players' Player Award by his teammates this season.
Oh, did I mention he lives up to his surname?
This year Fast played in 21 more games than he did in 2014-15 and scored 16 more points. Could Fast stand to shoot more and create more offense, especially when he is on the ice with the likes of Stepan and Kreider? Sure, but given his zone deployment and shot suppression that would be asking a lot of a defensive forward.
What really hurt his grade was just how poor the Rangers’ penalty killing was. Of course, making Fast the scapegoat is a very silly thing to do. The data shows he suppresses shots and is a great player to have on the ice when shorthanded. However, I consider it important to keep the Rangers’ shorthanded woes in mind when evaluating Fast.
“Quickie” does so many little things right away from the puck that it's hard to find a lot of fault in him. Fast is a sixth round pick that produced in the SEL and AHL and earned a regular roster spot with the Rangers the hard way.
He is a good hockey player. Undersized, somewhat unremarkable, but damn good.