Jesper Fast has most often been shifted on the New York Rangers third and fourth lines in recent seasons. He made his NHL debut in the 2013-14 season, when he appeared in 11 regular season games. By 2014-15, he became a more integral facet of this team, playing 58 regular season games. Over the last two seasons, his role has expanded and he’s become one of the more versatile players on this team.
This year, Fast again excelled his role in New York, even though his regular season was shortened to 68 games due to a separated shoulder suffered in March.
During the regular season, Fast was featured in a number of line combinations – (in order of TOI) with Hayes-Grabner, Lindberg-Buchnevich, Miller-Grabner, Miller-Lindberg, Lindberg-Vesey, Pirri-Buchnevich, Pirri-Lindberg, Hayes-Vesey, Miller-Hayes, Kreider-Stepan, Pirri-Grabner, Lindberg-Grabner. Despite not having a regular line combination, as the most time he spent in one combination was 95.39 minutes with Hayes-Grabner, Fast was able to perform consistently.
Fast scored 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in the regular season. All 21 points were scored at 5v5 (1.6 per 60). His 15 assists (1.15 per 60) break down into 10 primary assists and five secondary (tying Stepan with 0.76 primary assists per 60, ranking third on the team).
Additionally, at 5v5 Fast had 91 hits for (ranking third on offense, behind Miller and Kreider – who both played more games and overall ice time than Fast), 23 takeaways, and 31 blocked shots.
His on-ice offensive generation was overwhelming by any means, but again – his role is as a defensive forward. On the other hand, his offensive suppression was noteworthy this season – including how he limited shot attempts against (55.39 Corsi against per 60, which ranked the fourth lowest of the forwards). Based on his defensive play, he had a 2.33 expected goals against per 60 of 2.33 (fifth lowest on offense).
The 25-year-old right winger elevated his play in the postseason this year. He scored six points (three goals, three assists) in 12 games. Two points (one goal, one assist) were scored short-handed. At 5v5, Fast also had 32 hits, five blocked shots, and three takeaways.
Similar to the regular season though, Fast did not contribute as much offense as other forwards, but he did maintain his defensive role. Fast was again effective in suppressing shot attempts against (54.29 Corsi against per 60), shots against (26.08 shots against per 60), and scoring chances against (6.41 scoring chances against per 60). His expected goals for (2.09 per 60) and goals against (1.71 per 60) were both favorable as well.
Fast primary played on two different line combinations – with Grabner-Hayes (third line) and Lindberg-Grabner (fourth line). Both were capable lines that were defensively responsible combinations for the Rangers. The line of Grabner-Lindberg-Fast was particularly impressive on both sides of the ice, providing the Rangers with one of their most consistent line combinations, as well as being one of the strongest fourth lines in the playoffs.
The Rangers recognize Fast’s capabilities – he’s excellent defensively, and does not detract from his game with hits or blocked shots as they are mainly done purposefully. Fast has shown glimpses of his offensive abilities, including in the last playoffs. Also, he’s one of the Rangers most effective penalty killers.
In fact, it could even be said that Fast is the player that head coach Alain Vigneault thinks Tanner Glass is – a spark plug that is physical, defensively responsible, a penalty killer, with “high-compete” as Vigneault so often cites. Fast may not drop the gloves as like Glass does, but he demonstrates his physicality when necessary – prioritizing how to use that aspect of his game effectively.
All in all, Jesper Fast fulfilled his role this season by being a reliable defensive forward with glimpses of offensive upside. And when the Rangers needed a spark in the playoffs, Fast provided secondary scoring even while short-handed. The winger was key in whichever role he was asked to play – even if it was a role he did not belong in. Because he is not the flashiest player, much of what he does can go unnoticed. One aspect of his game that is clearly noticeable though, is that he gives his all every shift. With all of that considered, between the regular season and postseason, Fast earned an overall grade of an A.
*5v5 data via Corsica.hockey.