The Rangers checked another box on their off-season to-do list, locking in restricted free agent Jesper Fast for three years by signing the valuable right wing to a $5.5 million contract on Wednesday.
The team announced the terms of the deal, which carries a salary cap charge of about $1.85 million.
Fast, 25, is one of the team’s most reliable two-way forwards, with coach Alain Vigneault using the Swede up and down the lineup and on the penalty-kill. For the second consecutive season he won the Players’ Player Award, as voted by his teammates.
Although Fast was one of the forwards left unprotected in the expansion draft, the Vegas Golden Knights took Oscar Lindberg. Fast, who underwent hip surgery for a labral tear earlier this summer, is not expected to be ready to play until November.
He had six goals and 15 assists in 68 games last season, and three goals and six points in the playoffs. Fast ranked third among team forwards in hits with 99 and fourth in blocked shots (44) last season. He was paid $1 million, with a salary cap charge of $950,000.
In parts of four seasons Fast, who was drafted in the sixth round in 2010, has played in 216 games, with 65 points.
General manager Jeff Gorton has another key RFA to sign, center Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad filed for arbitration on Wednesday, but he can still negotate and avoid a hearing. Dates of the hearings have not yet been set.
With Derek Stepan traded to Arizona before the June entry draft in Chicago, Zibanejad, who arrived last summer in the deal that sent Derick Brassard to the Senators, is the presumptive No. 1 center.
With Fast in the fold, Gorton has about $5.5 million left under the salary cap. Zibanejad, 24, was paid $3.25 million last season, with a cap hit of $2.625 million. In 56 games — he was sidelined for 24 games last November after suffering a broken fibula — Zibanejad went 14-23-37 and added two goals and seven assists in a dozen postseason games.
Defenseman Kevin Klein is reportedly considering retirement to play in Europe, which would remove his $2.9 million cap charge for the 2017-18 season, and give Gorton room to maneuver. If Klein chooses to stay, Gorton presumably will try to trade him for a draft pick to clear more cap space or perhaps buy out him in the second buyout window, which opens July 15. Dan Girardi’s contract was bought out before the expansion draft.