23-year-old winger Jesper Fast has impressed the Rangers with his dependable performances and defensive savvy. For at least the next two weeks, the Rangers will have to make due without a bottom-six ‘glue player’ whose game has been steadily trending upward.
Following the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime defeat to the Dallas Stars on Sunday, head coach Alain Vigneault announced that Fast suffered a first degree right knee sprain during Saturday’s loss in Nashville. Vigneault said Fast will be out two-to-three weeks.
Fast has become a favorite of Vigneault’s because of his defensive zone awareness and overall steadiness. Prior to the injury, Vigneault used Fast on his third penalty-killing unit.
“He’s been one of our more dependable players,” Vigneault said of Fast. “Other than one turnover that sticks in my mind right now, he’s been very dependable without the puck. With the puck, he’s done a great job killing (penalties) for us.”
“He’s a really smart player,” Zuccarello said. “You could see that right away when he got here. He does the right things, he’s a good player.”
Moore is impressed with Fast’s intelligent decision-making. Fast has shown an ability to make smart plays along the wall in the defensive zone.
“He plays a heads-up game,” Moore said. “You can see him learning more with every game. He makes responsible plays and makes plays well without the puck – which is important.
“Learning to play without the puck is a big thing for young players. It’s knowing when to forecheck, knowing when to kind of pull back and take good angles. There’s a lot that goes into it. He’s definitely a guy who’s making good decisions.”
Zuccarello has become a fan-favorite because of his ability to play larger than his size. He appreciates the toughness and wholehearted performances shown by Fast. In the Rangers’ 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Feb. 4, Fast registered seven hits.
“He’s a tough kid, he blocks shots, he’s a good skater,” Zuccarello said. “He plays taller than he is. He plays with a lot of heart. He knows where to be offensively and defensively. You can see he’s been an important guy for our team.”
The Rangers made a late steal in sixth round of the 2010 NHL Draft when they selected Fast at 157th overall. Given Fast’s skilled hands, quick acceleration and smart decision-making, some fans expected Fast to play more of an offensive role. Up until his recent knee injury, Fast was filling the bottom-six role that was needed.
Through 37 games, Fast has contributed three goals and six assists. Zuccarello believes that Fast has a good amount of offensive upside.
“I think he has the ability to become a good offensive player for sure,” Zuccarello said. “He’s got a good shot. It’s going to come with confidence.”
Over the next few weeks, the Rangers will miss Fast’s steadying presence in the lineup. Once he returns from injury, Rangers fans will look forward to seeing more of his important contributions.