WASHINGTON - Jesper Fast is making the most of his opportunity to play in the top six.
The right winger, who had a goal and assist in two games against the Capitals, started again with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider Monday night.
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Former head coach John Tortorella didn't think much of Fast, but that has changed under Alain Vigneault. A two-way player who Vigneault dubbed "Quickie" and who has been valuable on the penalty kill and fourth line, is blossoming.
What impresses Vigneault?
"His work ethic," he said Monday. "Every time I see him on the ice in practice, games, he's full out and full go. He's not going to be perfect. He's not going to make all the plays with the puck that need to be made. He's not going to get all of the defensive assignments that he has. But he always goes out and gives you everything that he has and, for a coach, that's all you can ask. Last game [Game 2] was one of his better games since he's been a Ranger. There's no doubt in my mind that he is going to be better for us."
Fast, 23, played 15:05 in Game 2, including against the Caps' top line, and his burst to redirect Stepan's pass forced Braden Holtby to make a save and allowed Kreider to snap in the rebound at the 38-second mark. "He doesn't stop moving his feet," Kreider said. "He's very aware of all the aspects of the game, like many of the Swedish lineage, and improving."
In 2013-14, after scoring 17 goals and 34 points in 48 games for Hartford, Fast played in three Rangers playoff games. In the offseason, he added some muscle and during this season, some confidence.
"When I was called up for those three games, I really was just learning," Fast said. "Just being out there and gaining the trust of the coaches gives you confidence, I feel more comfortable being around these guys all year, seeing how they play." He particularly watched fellow Swede Carl Hagelin. "Like Hagelin, I've got to use my speed, stay strong on the puck and make plays."
Fast had six goals and 14 points in 58 games, but missed almost all of February with a knee sprain. He didn't put up any points against the Penguins, concentrating on defense on the fourth line, but with Martin St. Louis replacing injured Mats Zuccarello, Fast was promoted. "I'm trying not to change my game," he said, "playing with Step and Kreids, there's usually a lot of opportunities, but you've got to be responsible."