The Rangers stand to have a number of prospects vying for NHL spots in the upcoming preseason, but worst case scenario they will have a number of younger players playing prominent roles in the AHL in Hartford. One of the harder players to gauge is Jesper Fast. Exceptionally quick, and fresh off a strong SEL campaign, Fast has been playing hockey against men for a couple of seasons and is likely better prepared than many prospects trying to crack the New York roster.
On the flip side, Jesper Fast has all of one game in North America on his resumé, and despite scoring – and generally impressing – in that one appearance, it is still just that; one appearance. Fast’s speed and shot should translate well to the NHL, but given his skill set and the apparent depth on the big club, it would be reasonable to expect Fast to start in the AHL next year. Or would it?
With injuries to Ryan Callahan and countryman Carl Hagelin, and uncertainty surrounding Chris Kreider’s initial role, JT Miller’s readiness, and Mats Zuccarello’s yet unresolved future, there may be –at least in the short term– a position available to the prospect that fares best in training camp. With a new coaching staff and an apparent re-emphasis on a more finesse (?) style under Alain Vigneault, it appears most prospects stand an even chance of cracking the opening roster given the ‘clean slates’ likely to be handed out by AV and company.
New veteran additions Benoit Pouliot and Dom Moore are likely headed for the third and fourth lines, but a spot in the top six is there for the taking. Last season Fast had his best year as a professional, staying mainly injury free and contributing 18 goals and 17 assists for HV71 in the regular season; as well as 5 points in 5 playoff games. Fast built on solid starts in his previous two years and put together his strongest, most consistent season, suggesting he has been maturing as a hockey player.
Fast will be approaching his 22nd birthday when the season starts. With three full pro seasons (injuries accounted for) and plenty of international hockey under his belt, Fast should be ready to be to make an impact at the North American pro level. Putting estimates on games and points is where it gets tricky.
For the Rangers, if Fast forces his way on to the roster it will be seen as a bonus. It will be a prospect showing NHL readiness and will certainly help long term. If he isn’t ready he will be expected to contribute for the Wolfpack and show progression. The Rangers don’t need Fast to be ready but they need him to show development.
With the Rangers clearing veteran depth out from the AHL roster –and the franchise looking to push the kids up through the system– there will be opportunities to stake a claim for NHL ice time. Realistically, Fast should immediately be a productive AHL forward, and with some solid form he can reasonably hope for a call-up in the (full) NHL season. What he does with the call-up is then up to him.
Fast, however, is a bit of a lightweight. Considering the issues the Rangers have had with size recently, he’ll need to show he is absolutely ready to contribute if he’s to make it in the short term. Fast should be focused on taking advantages of the early season injuries, but it wouldn’t be a shock – nor a concern – if he starts the year in the AHL.
A season of 25 goals and either side of 50 points for the Wolfpack would be considered a strong introduction to full time North American hockey for Fast. Anything more and he may be on his way to New York, any less and it should be seen as a season of learning for the young Swedish prospect.