The 2014-15 season was a roller coaster of sorts for Rangers forward Jesper Fast, though one he'll look back on fondly.
After making the team out of training camp, "Quickie" — as he's called by head coach Alain Vigneault and his teammates — was sent down to Hartford of the American Hockey League after just three games. He'd remain there for about a month before being recalled on Nov. 11. He'd stick with the team the remainder of the season, including an injury that cost him nearly all of February.
Then in the playoffs following an injury to Mats Zuccarello that caused Vigneault to change all of his line combinations, Fast found himself playing alongside Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider on the team's top line. Fast made the most of it, scoring three goals and three assists over the final two playoff rounds.
All that is in the past, and Fast is now out to show that that was just the beginning.
"I want to improve my game," Fast told BlueshirtsUnited.com Friday. "Last year, I think I took one step, played a lot and finished the season good. I played a lot of minutes. That experience and that confidence, I feel like I can take that into next season."
The opportunity to play alongside Stepan and Kreider has been the biggest confidence-builder for the 23-year-old Swede.
"To play in that type of role in the playoffs and conference finals and everything — that's given me good confidence for this season," Fast said. "This year, I have to prove that this was not a one-time thing. There's a lot of guys fighting for roles, so you've got to bring your best game and show that you deserve the minutes you're getting."
There certainly is competiion in the former of newcomers Emerson Etem and Viktor Stalberg, as well as from Oscar Lindberg and Tanner Glass in the team's bottom-six.
Fast, who scored six goals and 14 points in 58 games, became a key component of the Rangers' penalty kill. With the departure of Carl Hagelin, that role will only intensify this season.
The expectations are certainly raised after what Fast did in his first full season in New York. And now, he's out to meet those expectations head-on.
"The second year is always a little bit tougher," Fast admitted. "Most people have expectations on you to get better and improve your game, so of course that's something you think about. You want to prove them right and that last year wasn't just a one-time thing. You want to always improve your game, you want to play more and you have to show everyone that you can take that type of role."
Vigneault said on Friday that he's expecting the young players on this team to be big parts moving forward.
"We expect more from those guys," Vigneault said of players like Fast, Kreider and J.T. Miller. "We, coaches and management, believe that those people have more to give and more to bring on a daily basis. I look at our team right now a lot like I was last year going into it.
"We're hoping that some of these guys will be able to deliver," Vigneault contined. "We're going to give them the opportunity to deliver. Time will tell if we're right or not in making those assumptions."
Fast met that challenge last year and was rewarded for it, averaging 14:50 per game in the postseason, up from 11:48 in the regular season, according to Hockey-Reference.com. That trust has led to confidence, but one Fast knows must be earned again.
"Of course it feels good that AV gave me that confidence and trust in me to put me in those roles," Fast said. "I want to give him the option to put me in any role, whether it's third, fourth or second-line. I want to make him feel confident, but of course I want to play as much as possible. I have to show them I'm getting better."