GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Soon can’t come soon enough for the Rangers and Jesper Fast.
Despite a sputtering start to the season, the Rangers revealed some good news during Wednesday’s practice, when Fast said he feels close to fully healed from the hip surgery he underwent in June. Coach Alain Vigneault said he would not be surprised if his winger is available relatively soon. Previously, Fast had been on track to return at the end of October.
Vigneault said Fast, who was cleared for contact last week, completed on-ice testing before Wednesday’s skills practice, and had the fourth-highest score.
“I think he’s closing in here, probably might need a couple practices,” Vigneault said. “I’m not exactly sure on a time length . . . (but) we’re going to (talk to the medical team) at some point today or tomorrow, and probably, I would say, in a week to 10 days here, he should be ready to go.”
Though last season wasn’t his best, Fast has been missed among the bottom six forwards, as the Rangers have dropped three of their first four. He could presumably replace Paul Carey or Adam Cracknell on the fourth line. The 25-year-old, who was a restricted free agent at the end of last season, signed a three year, $5.5 million deal, a vote of confidence in his full recovery.
Fast feels “no pain,” he said, though he acknowledged that he’ll have to continue to work on rebuilding his stamina after he stayed away from lower-body exercises in the summer following his surgery.
“It shouldn’t be that long until I can be out there again,” he said. “I’m doing everything out there practicing, so as soon as the medical team says I’m ready to go, I’ll be out there . . . I’ve done a lot of skating stuff (recently for stamina and conditioning) and it’s always hard. I’m practicing hard. It’s hard to tell how it will feel in a game.”
While recovering, he’s had one of the best seats to one of the worst starts in the NHL this year. After losing 3-1 to the injury-tattered St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, the Rangers are just one of two teams who have played four games and only won one. Only the Sabres are winless, at 0-2-1.
Sitting out has been “hard when the team is not winning,” Fast said. “You want to be out there and help them, but I knew from the beginning that I’d probably miss some games, so I’m just doing what I should do out there . . . as soon as they tell me to go, I’ll go out and play.”
Though Vigneault is eager to reintroduce Fast, he made clear that his forward wouldn’t be the sole answer to the Rangers’ woes.
“It’s not one player,” he said. “(Fast) is an important player to our group here, but right now we’re a work in progress. We’re trying to sort out our identity here . . . I just think we can play a quicker game here than we are right now and that’s a combination of forwards and Ds being on the same page.”