Editor’s Note: This is going to be a running series taking a look at the players the Rangers might lose to expansion and the issues that surround each potential player lost. We’ll try to take a look at things from a Las Vegas standpoint to see who they might want to pick.
The Player: Jesper Fast
The Contract: Current RFA
The Season: 6-15-21 in 68 games played | 3-3-6 in 12 playoff games.
Before I really go into everything when it comes to Fast I want to make something clear: Fast is eligible to get selected in expansion because of his past games played but still needs to be signed to at least a one-year contract by the Rangers to fulfill all the requirements. The Rangers need to have two such forwards — Michael Grabner is one already — so expect Fast and Oscar Lindberg to get offers this summer so that they fit this rule.
If Fast is offered a one- or two-year deal, and retains his RFA status, then Las Vegas will get his ownership if he’s selected. If Fast is signed to a longer deal that pulls him out of his RFA years, then Vegas obviously gets the contract and then he’s a UFA at the end of it.
The Summary: Fast has always been a very dependable bottom six player, who can add a hint of offensive upside. He’s reliable in his own end, can jump up into the top-nine on a “break in case of emergency” basis, and is a very good penalty killer.
The criticisms when it comes to Fast really aren’t about Fast himself but the way Alain Vigneault used him. In many ways Fast is Vigneault’s leatherman. And while a leatherman might be great when you need a small pair of pliers to grab something or use the knife to cut something; it’s really hard to, say, hammer a nail in with it. Oh sure, you might be able to get it in there every now and again, but the tool really isn’t meant for that and those nails would go in smoother and more securely with a hammer. What the hell am I talking about?
Well, Vigneault has used Fast in the top-nine often through his tenure in New York. Fast is one of the rare younger kids who has full tenure in the Vigneault school of trust, and his usage in the top six (sometimes even on the top line!) was both confusing and at times harmful. Don’t get me wrong, Fast is a very good hockey play who can do a lot of good things for Las Vegas, but he’s not a top-six player and probably never will be.
However, his real value is in him being used properly. Like the leatherman being a really good tool when it’s used the way it’s supposed to be, Fast can be an exceptional help to a building team to shore up the bottom six and play a critical special teams role. There’s a lot of value in a guy like him.
Why he’d be attractive for Las Vegas to select: For starters Fast is only 25 years old, making him one of those coveted long-term options for a team looking to build things up from scratch. While a “bottom-six and penalty kill hero” might not jump off the page at you, it’s a critical role that almost every contending team tries to fill at the deadline (if it’s not done before). It’s a critical role, and having a guy who can jump into the top nine when needed makes Fast all that much more attractive.
Sure, Fast doesn’t belong in the top-six regularly, but he does have enough offense that he’s not totally out of place when he’s up there due to injury for a game or two. In the playoffs Fast was at his best, posing six points in his 12 games, and scoring some enormous goals.
His speed is really the takeaway here. It’s not just being able to have someone who can cause issues shorthanded, be a defensive menace, and also chip in a goal or two. It’s about having pure afterburner speed that you can throw anywhere you need. I’ve often said Fast is Carl Hagelin lite, and there really is value there. Throw that in along with his potential RFA ownership (or long-term contract, although I doubt the Rangers go that road and do the work for another team) and I really do think Fast is one of the more attractive options the Rangers have.
Why Las Vegas might stay away: I’ve said this before (and many of you have disagreed with me) but I do think Anti Raanta, Fast and Oscar Lindberg are the guys the Golden Knights would be most interested in. Assuming they don’t want a goaltender, I think it’s between Fast and Lindberg.
To me, Lindberg has far more upside. He’s just as good in his own zone, has far more offensive abilities, and (maybe most importantly) he’s a center. Teams who want to build out from the forward position want to do so down the middle, and Fast might not be as attractive an option.
Fast’s lack of true top-nine abilities on offense might be a breaking point for them, too. As much as Fast has value in the bottom six, there’s a dozen players who ply their trade there in the bargain bin every year. Does Vegas really need to use a selection in the expansion draft on someone they can go get in free agency?
Joe’s Guess: I really think it’s going to come down to Raanta and Lindberg, but I do see Fast as potentially being an attractive backup option. I just think Lindberg checks more forward boxes than Fast does at this point.