Rangers rookie Jesper Fast skates in first game at Garden
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If Jesper Fast has that wide-eyed look of a young tourist in Manhattan, well, that's because he is, in a way.
"I've only been in New York once before," said Fast, 21, a rookie from Nassjo, Sweden, before he played his first game at Madison Square Garden Monday night. "It's going to be a day to remember."
Making the team out of training camp was somewhat of a surprise to observers, although with fellow Swedish forward Carl Hagelin unable to play after offseason shoulder surgery, a spot was open.
Coach Alain Vigneault, who initially dubbed him "Quickie" because he had trouble pronouncing his first name (YES-PER), believed Fast's intelligence, ability to read plays and defensive conscience would add to the roster.
For much of the season, Fast has been deployed on the third or fourth line and on the penalty kill. He played 3:35 shorthanded against the Flyers and 1:55 against the Red Wings, when there were fewer penalties.
"It's a good feeling that the coach trusts me there," Fast said. "I think I've been playing pretty good there, so I'll just keep doing what I'm doing."
Actually, putting up points is what Fast had been doing in Sweden. With HV71 of the Swedish League last season, he tied for the team lead with 18 goals and added 17 assists in 47 games.
"I have a more defensive role here," said Fast, who has no points in eight games and was sent to the AHL after Monday night's 2-0 loss to the Canadiens.
He's fine with making high-percentage plays and not taking chances, at least for the moment. "The first thing I wanted to do here was not make any mistakes, take to heart what the coaches said -- 'Be smart, be on the right side of the play' -- but of course I want to create more offense when I'm out there."
Monday night against Montreal, he played the left side on a line with Dominic Moore and Mats Zuccarello.
Like many others, Fast noted that one difference from the European game and its larger ice surface is that "you don't have so much time with the puck here; they're on you all the time. Once I get more comfortable out there, I hope I can get some more chances."
Playing in Sweden, Fast recalled, coaches stressed how to help protect the puck along the boards with his skates to prepare for the North American game.
"I tried to work on that a lot," he said. "I have to get much better, though, because the guys here are much bigger and stronger and can move me pretty easy if I'm not careful."