The New York Rangers have clinched a playoff spot, but they still need to take care of business to avoid losing home ice in the first round. The Blueshirts have auditioned a number of players in the top six in an attempt to fill the void of Chris Kreider, but no player seemed to make the grade.
The Blueshirts need a player who can bring some of the qualities that are missing with Kreider out of the lineup, so management turned to the farm system for an answer. Enter Jesper Fast of the Hartford Wolf Pack. The 22-year-old winger had a stint with the Blueshirts earlier in the season, but he was only given a chance to play in the bottom six.
An injury ultimately sidelined Fast and his chances to become a permanent member of the Blueshirts 2013-14 roster. His latest call up comes with only three games remaining in the season, so there is also a chance that Fast is being given a chance to showcase himself for playoff duty.
There is no word on when Kreider will return to the lineup, so what can Blueshirt fans expect of Fast? The 22-year-old product of Nassjo, Sweden is a reliable defensive forward with decent size, speed and solid offensive potential.
There are three major things that fans can expect of him, and the first thing they can expect is speed.
Fast—originally spelled Fasth—definitely lives up to his surname, and it is fair to say that he has more foot speed than Kreider. One of the biggest things the Rangers have lacked since losing Kreider is overall speed, and the addition of Fast will address that.
Alain Vigneault uses a system in which having speed is paramount. To have a successful offense that emphasizes on possessing the puck, you need to have players that can skate and keep the offense going. Kreider was a player who was skilled at entering the zone and not getting caught up at the blue line.
Fast is the type of player who can not only carry the puck up the ice, but also play in the dirty areas of the ice, because his speed helps him retrieve pucks along the boards. He's 6'0" and 185 pounds, so while Fast may seem rather average in stature, he is a very tenacious player.
Defensive awareness is another big thing that fans can expect of Fast. The speedy Swede is a very smart hockey player, and he knows how to play in all three zones.
Vigneault talked about this with Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News and had this to say.
I like his hockey sense and his speed. His sense permits him to play well at both ends of the rink, and unfortunately when we sent him back (at the beginning of the season), he hurt himself and that high ankle sprain takes a while to find your rhythm again. But over the past month I’ve been told on a regular basis that he’s playing really, really well, and (Sunday) night I guess he was the best player on the ice.
Based on what this writer has seen, Fast doesn't over-commit offensively, and defensive lapses for Fast are rare. Fast also has loads of experience. From 2009 to 2013, Fast played for HV71 of the SHL—formerly the SEL—and scored 30 goals and added 37 assists in 106 games.
During this time he matched up with players bigger and older than him, but he was able to have success even as a young player. Don't be surprised to see Fast kill penalties, because that is an area where he is very comfortable. He's been a staple on the Wolf Pack's PK unit, and he should see some time while he is with the Rangers.
Can Jesper Fast help Martin St. Louis?
The time Fast spent in Hartford this season enabled him to become more accustomed with North American ice and the style of play expected of him. On a smaller ice surface there is less room to make plays, and players that are very decisive are generally successful.
Lastly, Fast will be relied upon for providing offense. For years with the Tampa Bay Lighting, Martin St. Louis enjoyed having a right-handed shot that he could feed pucks to. Examples include Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Tyler Johnson and Dave Andreychuk.
St. Louis hasn't played well since joining the Rangers, and while he has struggled, he's also been played out of position and with players who are all left-handed at times. These are not excuses, but they are conditions that are limiting St. Louis' potential effectiveness.
Fast is an ideal player to pair with St. Louis because of his speed, his overall awareness and his handedness. While Fast by no means projects to be the next Gustav Nyquist, he has enough skill to line with St. Louis. In 48 games with the Wolf Pack, Fast scored 17 goals, including two this past weekend.
If his AHL scoring success can translate over to the NHL it would be helpful, but the Rangers called him up because of his total cache of skills. Fast is a young forward with speed, and he is a solid defensive player. His offensive potential makes him a better fit in a top-six role than Daniel Carcillo, Dominic Moore or Brian Boyle.
Until Kreider is healthy enough to play, Fast is the best option to replace him in the lineup. While prospect Danny Kristo may have been a better fit offensively, Fast's overall game makes him an ideal fit. The Blueshirts prospect will re-enter the lineup on Tuesday vs. the Carolina Hurricanes, and according to Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record, he will start on a line with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin.
There are only three games left, and for the Rangers' sake, hopefully Fast provides that element that has been lacking since Kreider suffered an injury that resulted in hand surgery.
Stats via NHL.com and Hockey-Reference.