Jesper Fast has spent seven seasons serving as the quintessential lead-by-example presence. The 28-year-old wing only knows one way to skate, defend, and compete: hard.
His industrious efforts led to teammates voting him as the Players’ Player Award recipient for each of the past five seasons. Fast is the only Ranger in team history to earn the award for five consecutive seasons.
David Quinn and predecessor Alain Vigneault each have counted on Fast to fill roles up and down the lineup. Quinn rewarded Fast with the highest average ice time of his career (16:36) in 2019-20, playing him alongside Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin.
Fast notched 12 goals and 17 assists in 69 games during the 2019-20 regular season. That’s not quite an ideal return from an experienced wing playing the majority of his shifts with a Hart Trophy finalist. Yet, Fast’s value has never been primarily judged by bottom line statistics.
He’s always been more of complimentary piece who does all the unheralded “little things” that add up to his reputation as a beloved teammate. Fast excels on the penalty kill and tied for 16th overall among NHL forwards with 2:21 shorthanded ice time per game. He throws himself willingly into doing the dirty work in the corners and frequently wins loose pucks.
“I think what you appreciate the most with him is he pays the price every night,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of his fellow Swede. “He makes a lot of good plays out there that I don’t think he gets credit for, but I definitely see the way he is around the blue lines, the critical plays. He’s always a smart guy there. (He’s) a very important player to have on your team.”
Fast completed the final year of a three-year, $5.55 million contract this summer, and his next contract, whether with the Rangers or another organization, will command a significantly higher salary than his previous average annual value of $1.85 million.
The price tag that keeps getting linked to Fast is $4 million. While he won’t get that kind of salary from the cap-crunched Rangers, there’s talk of him being able to earn that kind of dough in free agency. With Fast eager to tie his future to the Blueshirts and the Rangers valuing his two-way ability and intangibles, both sides should be willing to be flexible in negotiations.
It would be good business if the Rangers can avoid an overpay and sign Fast to a fresh deal a little north of $3 million annually. The club and player wish to remain together and there’s a compromise that can be had to allow Fast to call Madison Square Garden home for years to come.