By Matt Calamia
Rangers prospect Jesper Fast entered training camp in a group of players on the bubble to make the team’s opening night roster. On Sunday morning, Fast was given the news that he had indeed played his way onto the roster and is expected to make his National Hockey League debut Thursday night when the Blueshirts open up the regular season in Phoenix against the Coyotes.
“Of course I was really happy,” Fast told BlueshirtsUnited.com on Sunday after practice. “I’m very excited to be here. It’s a dream come true to play for this organization, but it’s not the time to relax. I have to work even harder to stay here.”
While Fast, 21, posted just one assist in four preseason games, the young Swede stood out with his poise with the puck and his vision of the ice.
“I tried to play a smart game out there,” he said. “Don’t make any mistakes. Play my game.”
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault agreed with the young Swede’s self-assessment.
“When I looked at what Fast did throughout training camp, I really liked his hockey smarts and his skill level,” Vigneault said. “Being a right hander with Ryan [Callahan] not being there for the start, I thought it was a good fit.”
The 2010 sixth-round pick grabbed headlines last season while playing for HV 71 of the Swedish Elite League. In the regular season, Fast posted 18 goals and 35 points in 47 games. In six postseason games, Fast registered a goal and four assists.
Fast said he has to continue to adjust to the North American style of the game, most notably the smaller ice surface and playing with “the big boys.”
“The timing [on the smaller ice surface]” is the biggest adjustment, according to Fast. “You don’t have the time to think out there. You have to know what to do with the puck before you get it. Of course, the play around the boards is something you have to get better at, and I have to learn to play on this level.”
Luckily for Fast, there are several fellow Swedes in the room as he continues to adjust to his new surroundings, including assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, defenseman Anton Stralman, and, of course, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“Lundqvist is probably one of the [most popular players] in Sweden,” Fast said with a smile. “It’s good to have some Swedes here that you could talk to if you have something you were wondering about or having questions.”
Lundqvist returned the praise for his fellow countryman.
“I’d say he’s a typical Swede — pretty quiet,” Lundqvist said. “He’s a very nice kid. He’s a smart player, sees the ice really well, great passer, and can shoot the puck as well. I’m happy for him that he’s getting this opportunity. He worked really hard in camp and deserves to be here.”
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