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Quickie Gives Rangers a Steady Spark

Workmanlike Winger's Strong Start Earns a Promotion

by Michael Obernauer

Jesper Fast is not one of the new faces around the Rangers' room in 2019-20, and he is the kind of player who will be happy to cede the headlines to teammates, new or old. It's not as if the Rangers are just getting to know, or trying to integrate, the right winger. On the contrary: It is Fast's familiar, workmanlike consistency and versatility that is a major reason he has been so highly esteemed throughout his seven seasons as a Ranger.

"This is a guy that is a model teammate, he's a guy you want to coach," David Quinn said on Monday. "Never takes a day off, physically and mentally. His teammates have an incredible amount of respect for him. He's incredibly likeable. There's not a lot not to like about this guy as a person and a player."

The Rangers have not shied from the fact that their performance in the first half of Sunday's game against Vancouver did not meet their standards; nor could anyone deny how much better their last 25 minutes were. And when searching for the reasons behind the turnaround, no one in that Rangers room was particularly surprised to point toward Fast.

Fast scored the goal that got the Rangers on the board late in the third period, then set up the score that brought them within one early in the third. He now has four points through the first six games of the season, and two goals in the Blueshirts' last three games.

Sunday in the end was a tale of two games for the Rangers, and they'll aim to carry the latter part of it into Tuesday night's Madison Square Garden match with the Arizona Coyotes. Fast will slot into a new spot to start that one, taking a turn on the right side of Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, offering the Rangers' top line a straight-line, natural right winger and a defensive element if Quinn elects to keep them together, or to match them up with Arizona's top trio, with last season's leading scorer, Clayton Keller, on the wing opposite Fast's.

"I think he complements them well right now," Quinn said. "I think it gives them an honest effort, and I think he's going to create a little space for them, I think he's going to create a little bit of defensive honesty for them. And we'll see how it goes."

"I'll just try to give them the puck as much as possible," Fast said. "If they have the puck, that's good for me as well."

Fast logged a sliver under 15 minutes of ice on Sunday - 2½ of them shorthanded - right around his average the past two seasons. His goal came with 5:02 left in the second period, when he set a moving screen and tipped home Jacob Trouba's long wrist shot, but Quinn saw signs his team was tilting the game even prior to that, with Fast at the center of it.

"To me his role started when we had to kill that penalty with about eight minutes to go (in the second)," the Head Coach said. "It was really the first penalty kill where we looked like we were aggressive and there was a little rhythm to our penalty kill, and he ended up blocking a shot and broke his stick. And we did a good job of not giving up a scoring chance and I thought we really fed off that. Then obviously he's a huge piece of the next goal.

"I thought that might have been a turning point for us as a team, and we carried it over through the third period."

Fast has played plenty with Zibanejad in the past, but will skate with Panarin for the first extended period on Tuesday night. That trio got a little cameo together on Sunday, when at the end of an extended shift Fast hopped off the bench for Chris Kreider and joined the attack: He and Zibanejad wound up winning a puck in the corner, and Fast teed it up for Panarin inside the right circle for a top-corner one-timer, Panarin's fourth goal as a Ranger.

"One of the top five skill guys in the League," Fast said of Panarin. "He's finding plays, he creates space for everyone, and he can hold onto pucks, so it's fun to play with a guy like that and hopefully I can do my best to help him."

Through six games those three have been on the ice all together for a grand total of 1:58, including their 34 seconds against the Canucks. But there is one goal already under their belts, and ample familiarity between Zibanejad and Fast.

"I've played with him, so I know what type of player he is and what he's going to bring night in, night out," Zibanejad said. "We had that one shift (Sunday) and we were able to score, so hopefully we can keep that tempo up."

That tempo? A goal every 1:58 is unlikely, but while Zibanejad leads the Rangers with 11 points through six games, and he and Panarin share the team lead in goals with four, Fast now has scored twice in the last three games. His first, on Thursday in New Jersey, came off the down-low play he excels at, with Ryan Strome and Brendan Smith working a puck to the front and Fast waiting on his side to clean up a Strome rebound. Since joining the Rangers last November, Strome has had his share of experience with Fast as a linemate.

"He's probably played on every line more than anyone since I've been here - fourth line, first line, he has got that ability, and he doesn't complain about anything. He goes out there, he blocks shots, he gets it done," Strome said. "If you just see the way he competes, he brings it every practice, every game.

"If you look at our game (Sunday), he's a big contributor on both our goals, and it's just the way he does it: He does it over and over and over again. When things aren't going too well and you have to kind of get back to the basics and doing things the right way, a guy like him is really, really counted on."

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